Menzies Art Brands



This beautifully restrained portrait was probably included in a critically praised solo exhibition by Donald Friend in June 1948 at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney, as Country Boy (cat.7).1 However, confirmation of the identity of its subject remains uncertain.

There are numerous contenders. During 1948, Friend was living with his friend Donald Murray in their recently purchased nineteenth century house in Hill End, New South Wales. It was a particularly fertile period for Friends figure drawing, that had begun with masterful studies of his beloved Torres Strait Islander family in the early 1940s to a magnum opus, The Apocalypse of St John the Divine, completed at Hill End in 1949 for which the artist used various models.2 In his famous diaries there are plenty of references to urchins and drunken youth making a nuisance of themselves around the town, who may have caught his attention to capture fresh subjects for his masterpiece. Then again, this particular portrait, with its indelible aura of innocence, may simply be the son of a neighbouring family.

During this period, Friend made drawings of Colin Brown, a young blonde-haired sculpture apprentice he had met in Merioola in 1946, and whom he encouraged to join him and Murray at Hill End, and numerous studies of individuals who came in and out of their existence, including tender drawings of Russell Drysdales (1912-1981) two children Lynne and Tim, the latter who with his father came to stay at Hill End during September.

All surviving images of that time, in fact, reveal an abiding dignity in Friends deep love of drawing and painting the figure. His talent was alert to the world, exuding a compassion for humanity now eclipsed by the implications perceived in his later Balinese life and career.

The diaries of 1948 contain a further complicated story. Friend was conflicted between a necessary solitariness for his work, as opposed to a constant craving for social interaction. Caught between these two states he struggled with self-doubt, attempting to put his painting on the same level as his drawing. In this, he compared himself unfavourably to his dearest friend Drysdale:

He has a startling and noble perception of what he paints I turn out things which mean nothing beyond paint itself.3

But when we look at this 1948 image of a boy in a landscape, Donalds comment against himself seems far too harsh. The impeccable placement of the figure, carefully describing the shapes of clothing before the poetic haze of Hill End behind him, speaks of an artist gazing at a suspended hallucination of his own transient youth.



1. Most of the subjects in this exhibition appear to be landscapes.
2. Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
3. Diary entry 2nd March 1948, National Library of Australia, Canberra


Barry Pearce
Barry Pearce is Emeritus Curator of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He is responsible for many exhibitions and publications and is the co-author of Justin O'Brien: The Sacred Music of Colour (2010) and the author of Donald Friend 1915-1989: A Retrospective (1990).








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