Menzies Art Brands



Russell Drysdale, The Young Ringer, 1957

Sir Russell Drysdale’s painting The Young Ringer of 1957 was originally owned by Derek Hamblen CB, OBE (1918-2009). Hamblen was the British MI5 representative who reported back to Whitehall on the infamous Petrov Affair that rocked Australian politics in the mid-Fifties. Hamblen, who ended up as a Principal Director in the British Ministry of Defence, bought the painting in 1958 from Leicester Galleries in London where Drysdale held his major exhibition entitled New Paintings of Northern Australia by Russell Drysdale.

The Young Ringer shows a masterly depiction of one of the denizens of the Australian Outback. This is not a typical Drysdale portrait – that is, a vertical format painting of a clearly identified figure such as his justly famous paintings Old Larsen (1953), Happy Jack (1961), Rocky McCormack (1963) and Tom Finch (1964). By contrast, the present painting shows a more horizontal format with the torso of an unidentified young male figure. The highly original offset composition is gravitating and bracing. The male figure stands to the left of a canvas that shows a bleak Outback landscape almost as though Drysdale has consciously reversed the traditional depiction of a landowner who is usually shown as master of all that he surveys. Here the figure seems to own nothing – he seems not to own the land, rather the land seems to own him. This interpretation is bolstered by the way Drysdale has painted the sketchy features of the figure’s face – its colours and tones cohere with the landscape. The bruised and sullen colours of the background sky are found skilfully smeared across the figure’s face; the parched ochre of the earth finds a visual balance in its right cheek and the passive victimless stoicism shown in the face seems formed of the same bleakness as the background. The shaded aura-like section brushed in on the figure’s left serves only to accentuate this symbiotic relationship. There is no malice or scorn in this depiction – the non-specific figure is sympathetically rendered and its scumbled surfaces and dashed-off qualities do not outline the features of a particular person, but of many; the image was created through the flickering associations of a hundred real-life recollections.

The Young Ringer contains all the artist’s hallmark attributes; it is formed of deep conviction and painted with empathy and consummate skill. Its lightness of touch and grasp of imagist essentials show the forty-five year old Drysdale at his impressionistic best.

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