Menzies Art Brands



The faces with flowers, with their burning tensions between the trapped, withdrawing and withdrawn girls and young children and the flowers that they held, or proffered, or gazed down at, or through, were moments of revelation, but essentially moments in isolation: the faces responded and opened up only within the aura of the flowers themselves.1

With Trumpet Lilies in her Hand 1955 is an example of Charles Blackmans most notorious and famed artworks of the late 1950s. The schoolgirl and her flowers are arguably the most important motifs of Blackmans art, not only were they the precursor to his Alice in Wonderland series, they were also revisited frequently throughout his entire career. Blackmans schoolgirls are an expression of youth and a vehicle of personal exploration, not unlike Degass dancers or Seurats female-figure, both artists who Blackman admires. In With Trumpet Lilies in her Hand the artist has created one of his most fertile mental and spiritualised landscapes through the use of poetic tools in which one can regard with dream-like reflection of childhood memories.

Blackmans approach to figurative painting combined with his employment of surrealism was paramount to his success within the Melbourne antipodean school of art that lead to a revolutionary new way of painting. Together with the likes of Arthur Boyd (1920-1999), David Boyd (1924-2011), John Brack (1920-1999), Robert Dickerson (1924-2015), John Perceval (1923-2000) and Clifton Pugh (1924-1990) the Antipodeans followed after the Angry Penguins School of the 1940s, continuing the tradition of figurative painting as central to creating a powerful visual language. Blackmans original approach in depicting the figure came from drawing upon poetry and fantasy, his strongest influence being the writing of John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942):

Fear it has faded in the night.
The bells all peal the hour of nine.
Schoolgirls hastening through the light
touch the unknowable divine2

Women and children were depicted throughout the artists career and are crucial to the fundamental themes of the Blackmans work.  The present painting With Trumpet Lilies in her Hand marries Blackmans Schoolgirl theme with the artists strong affection for poetry and the metaphysical realm. The manner in which Blackman projects himself into this work generates a psychological androgyny that evokes a spiritual sensibility of poetry in relation to the schoolgirl and her lilies. Experience dances with innocence and the innocent offers up a fresh lily to the unknown beholder or the portentous unknown.

The flowers become a meaningful symbol when placed in the hands and within the surroundings of a young girl; an implication not lost on the artist. The lilies echo the girls hands and her face blushes with the pinks of the surrounding flowers.

The present work captures a precious moment of private childlike reverie. The application of oil in dark hues with luminous soft pink tones sneaking out of the ominous floristry evokes the innocence of childhood and the fragility of such an existence. The tension of light and dark articulate the fleeting virtue of youth and reminds us that childhood is a temporary state; to be savoured like nourishment and kept as a place that ones mind can visit in order to escape from the dreariness of day-to-day adulthood. This work is that moment. The lilies, like the girls hands and mirrored in their imagery, are finally in full bloom after lying dormant in the winter. They are gloriously ripe and face towards the sunshine in a transient moment that sanctifies life. This moment that is gone. It has aged, wilted and ceased, never to be experienced again. Blackmans recreation of this perfect moment in time, executed with his classic poetic sensibility, are beautifully enjoyed here in With Trumpet Lilies in her Hand for us to savour in our own private reflection.

Charles Blackmans works from this period are held in the National Gallery of Australia, all State galleries and many regional galleries. His works are also held in major public, private and corporate collections in Australia and internationally as well as being cited in all important publications on Australian art history.


Tessa Dorman MA (Art History and Theory)

1. Shapcott, T., Focus on Charles Blackman, University of Queensland Press, Queensland, 1967, p.43

2. Ibid, p.21


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