Menzies Art Brands



Illawarra Pastoral 1957 is a classically composed landscape from a popular period of Lloyd Reess art. It first came to public notice when it was exhibited at Sydneys first Royal Easter Show exhibition in March-April 1958 and won a 150 prize. The painting was subsequently purchased soon after by the Atlantic Union Oil Co. Pty Ltd (later Esso Australia and ExxonMobil).1

The Easter Show was recognised by artists as an excellent opportunity to bring their paintings before the widest possible audience. Lloyd Rees was already well-known to the Sydney art cognoscenti. He won the prestigious Wynne Prize for landscape painting in 1950 with The Harbour from McMahons Point. His painting Sydney was awarded the Commonwealth Jubilee Art Prize the following year. Rees had held regular exhibitions in Sydney from the 1940s and central to many of these works was an ongoing love affair with Sydney Harbour and the New South Wales South Coast.

Important works from this middle period of his life include The Road to Berry 1947 and Omega Pastoral 1950 which were purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria respectively in the same year in which they were painted. Their acquisition so soon after they had been completed by the two major Australian public galleries signalled just how desirable his works had become. Similarly, the Art Gallery of Western Australias The Road to the Mountain, painted in the Illawarra region in 1954, was the largest painting executed outdoors by Rees2 and was also acquired around this time.

Rees considered his paintings featuring the Illawarra hinterland and coast between Kiama and Berry as marking his mature style. While he was always surprised how popular the smaller The Road to Berry was to become, works such as the larger and more painterly Omega Pastoral and Illawarra Pastoral contain many of the pictorial elements that cemented his place in the pantheon of Australias best landscape painters.

Rees could construct a restrained mood in his paintings: he was a master of drawing out the stillness of his subject. An adroit use of complementary colours, subtle light effects and well-rounded forms were part of his armoury, as was his much-admired ability to nestle man-made objects and natural forms quietly into the landscape. There is also the characteristic curvilinear line that snakes into the distance and draws together the various elements of the composition. Sometimes a river, sometimes a fence-line and sometimes a road, these lines matched the artists stated desire to intensify the rhythmical qualities that he found in nature.

Combining a wealth of naturalistic detail with inventive poetic license, Illawarra Pastoral is believed to be one of three works bearing the same title and is a major example of Lloyd Reess Illawarra creations.
Rees was introduced to the Illawarra region in the late 1930s. From 1939 he and his family holidayed at Gerringong and in 1947 they built a small cottage, Caloola, at nearby Werri Beach. From this vantage point Rees was able to move up and down the coast, taking inspiration from the rocky headlands, sweeping vistas, picturesque valleys and adjacent mountain ranges.

The Illawarra region has long been identified as a rich pocket of nature. An early rambler exploring the region in the 1930s described it as famous for its cattle and its rich pastures. It lies between the picturesque coastal range and the sea and is fringed by a long succession of golden beaches.

There are outlooks that hold a visitor spellbound views so extensive and magnificent that it is difficult to convey their splendour in words.3

Rees seems to have found in the Illawarra a similar sense of natures bounty. In Illawarra Pastoral he captures fertile plains framed by rolling  hills and mountain ranges. The high viewpoint emphasises the feeling that this is an idyllic place, farmhouses and outbuildings are evenly spaced in a succession of valleys in a measured and orderly way. Water is plentiful, pastures and trees are pleasantly green and a cool, benign sky presides over the peacefully calm scene. As one reviewer of the Easter Show exhibition observed, the work was typical of its nameIllawarra Pastoral, showing the Shoalhaven country just in from the coast, as most farmers like to see it at its verdant and productive best.4

At the same time, Rees tempers over-abundance with the introduction of a more muscular composition, seen especially in the surrounding mountains, and colours such as the stronger reddish-browns. Rees famously claimed that the landscape was almost too green along this section of the coast, too Constable-like, so he preferred to define the Illawarra in his own russets and greys. This admission helped him to bring a warmth and earthiness to his pictures, expressively modulated through a range of hues and tones that are more reminiscent of Bathurst than Gerringong. Like The Road to the Mountain, the background and middle-ground of Illawarra Pastoral is in Reess words a bit sun-warmed and dried.5

Artistic license is also taken with the surrounding mountain range. Although Reess works often take in the characteristic forms of nearby Saddleback Mountain and the Omega Hills, the mountains depicted in Illawarra Pastoral seem to bear little direct relation with the Gerringong area. Rather, they seem closer in form and colour to the inland regions of Australia: rocky outcrops with deep crevices and imposing forms.

Reess intention is not to obscure the sense of place but rather to enhance the area as it appeared to him. The mountain ranges of Illawarra Pastoral add a strong physical presence and contain the middle and foreground, giving a greater sense of ancient and timeless monumentality. This was certainly how they were seen at the time by one Sydney art critic who described the composition as an impressive and technically interesting impression of stone fences and sombre country, massive shapes, an emphasis on the geological skeleton of the land rather than the tender skin; in fact, more like sculpture
than painting.6

Lloyd Rees recognised early that his development as an artist would rely on how well he could go beyond nature and re-present it through his eyes. The artists symbols, he wrote in 1940, are mostly based on natural objects. But if his command over them is complete, he can evolve by the simplest means, a pure creation of the human mind, an abstraction in precisely the same sense and degree as a work in architecture or music.7

Illawarra Pastoral and companion paintings of the Illawarra region go a long way in achieving this noble aim. They are wonderful evocations of the area that inspired Lloyd Rees and stand as painterly virtuosos based on quiet, reflective moods.

1. Lloyd Rees letter to Atlantic Union Oil Co., 12.9.1958, ExxonMobil Australia Archives.
2. Morrell, T., Lloyd Rees: Rhythmical quality, Art Collector, Issue 20, April - June 2002.
3. Sydney Mail, 9 April 1930.
4. The Sydney Land, 3 April 1958.
5. Rees, L., quoted in Renee Free, Lloyd Rees: An artist remembers, Craftsman House, Seaforth, NSW, 1987, p.61.
6. The Bulletin, 2 April 1958.
7. Lloyd Rees, What is good drawing, Art in Australia, Sydney, 23 February 1940,
quoted in Free, R., The Landscape of Lloyd Rees, Lloyd Rees Retrospective,
Souvenir Catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1969, p.4.

Rodney James BA (Hons.) MA

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