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JOHN BRACK - Nude on Kitchen Chair
  • JOHN BRACK - Nude on Kitchen Chair


© Courtesy of Helen Brack

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION, SYDNEY

JOHN BRACK (1920-1999)

Nude on Kitchen Chair 1972

Estimate: $30000 - 40000

 

JOHN BRACK (1920-1999)

Nude on Kitchen Chair 1972

conté on paper
80.0 x 58.0 cm; 103.0 x 86.5 (framed)
signed and dated lower left: John Brack/ 72
inscribed lower left: 3. Nude on Kitchen chair Conté 28 1/4" x 20 1/4 "

Provenance:
Private collection
Leonard Joel, Melbourne, 20 November 2001, lot 80 (as Nude in a Kitchen Chair)
Private collection
Gould Galleries, Sydney, October 2005 (label attached verso, stock no.12841)
Private collection, Sydney

Exhibited:
John Brack: Conté Drawings of the Nude, Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney, March 1972; Crossley Gallery, Melbourne, July 1972, cat.3
The Nude in the Art of John Brack, McClelland Gallery, Victoria, 17 December 2006 - 11 March 2007

Reference:
McCaughey, P., 'These Nudes Form a Distinguished Display', The Age, Melbourne, 5 July 1972
Grishin, S., The Art of John Brack, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1990, vol.2, p.60, cat.p173 (illus. p.218)

Estimate: $30000 - 40000

John Brack is one of Australia’s most outstanding and acclaimed artists of the second half of the 20th century. As a draughtsman, he is widely regarded as one of the most distinguished artists that Australia has ever produced.

Although much of his early art practice was concerned with images of suburbia and later he sought a visual metaphor through which to explore the human condition and patterns of human behaviour involving elaborate constructions of still life objects including pens, pencils, knives and forks, the female nude remained a central theme in his art. For Brack, the nude was a reference to the great traditions of art history and reflected his attempt to tackle these traditions within a contemporary context and in some ways to subvert these grand traditions.

Brack’s first major series of nudes in 1958, challenged the major conventions of the old masters who painted the nude, including François Boucher (1703-1770), Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). With irony and thorough changes to the model and palette, Brack subverted these traditions. In retrospect, these challenges appeared to Brack to be overstated and in the 1960s he sought a more nuanced approach. His conté drawing, Standing Nude 1966, is a somewhat deliberate play with the classical Venus de’ Medici model, where through the subtle changes to the position of the hands, he made the erotically revealing nude into an unerotic overstatement concerning a naked woman. The adolescent beauty of the classical prototype is replaced with a confronting image of a middle-aged woman unadorned by classical attributes. Brack was clearly delighted with this drawing and selected it as one of the works to be exhibited in a major joint exhibition that he held with Fred Williams in Canberra in 1967.

Brack’s Nude on Kitchen Chair 1972 belongs to a series of conté nude drawings that were viewed at the time and subsequently as a major achievement in Australian art. Brack explained some of his thinking behind the series:

The drawings for my nudes are made from the model … I attempt to comment on the art of the past as well as the present … In general, the setting is intended to reflect the present, real world, i.e., it is a corner of my own studio, with only the Persian rug, apart from the subject, to link it to the past, and to provide a contrasting note of opulence, if not a particularly strong one … In terms of perspective, picture space, attitude, etc. the picture depends heavily on a series of interlocking paradoxes, which I imagine is a central preoccupation. (1)

In the previous year, 1971, Brack was awarded Australia’s richest art prize, Travelodge Painting Prize, and was lionised by art critics and curators. The influential art critic of The Age, Patrick McCaughey, applauded Brack’s exhibition that included Nude on Kitchen Chair 1972. He wrote:

John Brack’s 10 drawings of the nude at the Crossley Gallery form one of the most distinguished and complete exhibitions Melbourne has seen all year. Their quality… puts the best of them… amongst the finest drawings of the figure in Australian art… Nothing is tried which cannot be delivered, and nothing is given away in flourish. All succumbs to Brack’s impersonality, the straightness of his manner. (2)

McCaughey continues:

He is neither classicist nor romantic, neither idealist nor realist. Nor does he reconcile such dualities: he transcends them. No single element in these drawings characterises the whole. The sliding floors with their rapid recession into a vacuum-like space are filled and checked by the immobility of the posed figure. The intricate pattern of a carpet, the folds of a sheet or the planar geometry of a chair animate without decorating the austerity of the room … It is an art of strict denial and acceptance of the possible, the arduousness of its discipline surrenders the finest quality. (3)

Brack’s Nude on Kitchen Chair 1972 is a powerful drawing where the nude figure is awkwardly positioned on the kitchen chair at the compositional apex where all the perspectival lines collide. Next to the nude is her robe, possibly lying on a stool, a compositional device that Brack employed in his Travelodge painting, The Fur Coat 1971, Queensland Art Gallery. The tip of her toe touches the corner of the Persian carpet that diagonally slides away from her and seems to float over the eccentrically receding floorboards. It is a masterful drawing where the nude figure is the only stable element within a dynamically unstable composition.

Brack’s conté drawings Standing Nude 1966 and Nude on Kitchen Chair 1972 are two exceptional drawings and are among the few major Brack drawings still in private hands.

 
FOOTNOTES

1) John Brack, letter to Ian North, 30 May 1972
2) McCaughey, P., 'These Nudes Form a Distinguished Display', The Age, Melbourne, 5 July 1972
3) Ibid.


Sasha Grishin

Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA is an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University, Canberra and Guest Curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. He is the author of over thirty books on art, including Australian Art: A History (The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2013).

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