Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 April 2010

Jeffrey Smart

born 1921

oil on canvas on board

49.5 x 25.5 cm

signed lower left: JEFFREY SMART

$80,000 - 120,000
Sold for $84,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 14 - 28 April 2010, Melbourne

Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne
Company collection, New South Wales
Savill Galleries, Sydney (label attached verso)
Private collection, Melbourne
Deutscher and Hackett, Melbourne, 16 April 2008, lot 16
Private collection, Sydney


Jeffrey Smart, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 29 March – 11 April 1978, cat. 23 (labels attached verso)

Catalogue text

That sense of irony which often permeates Jeffrey Smart's art is given an interesting twist in his painting The Dividing Line. Chosen for the cover of his 1996 autobiography, Not Quite Straight, one's eye follows the curve in its avoidance of the straight and narrow. Bland as Smart's surfaces may appear to be, the intellect is always at work, delving and revealing within compositions of the utmost order and balance. Paradox is like a leitmotif in his art, bringing the mind up with a start and vexatiously disturbing that classical stillness one associates with Smart's own favourite, the Italian Renaissance master Piero della Francesca. One of the biggest differences between their times is the mode of transport, with horses and mules replaced by the automobile, train and aeroplane. The inveterate traveller, Smart loves all things associated with journeying, especially the signs of the road, rail and air. In his hands they undergo a wondrous metamorphosis, adopting lives of their own from the sheer joy of appearance to elemental threat in those paintings where one's senses are heightened by the tense atmosphere generated by the feeling that something cataclysmic is about to take place. It is like the moment before the blast of lightning and immediate crack of thunder. In others, he tantalises the imagination with what is or might take place over the hill, around the curve, or on the other side. In our painting the horizon is the focus of attention. The curve of the dividing line leads up to it. The black and white curb and the directors point to it. The truck sits right on it, as seemingly do those blocks of blue anonymous apartments, part of what Smart calls 'city-prisons'.1 Even the clouds seem to be regimented by some kind of perspective. To ensure that this horizon line of frisson has our absolute attention, Smart chose a bizarre pink that cannot be ignored. Will the truck, a metaphor for the journeyman alias the viewer, fall off the edge of the visible world that the artist's allows us to see? Unlike a film by Alfred Hitchcock, Smart stops us on the brink of conclusion.

Drawing from our industrial society, Smart uses the colours of industry with all their bite and clamour. Significantly, in the final version of this painting, which is very close to this third and last study, Smart made important colour changes. The dividers are not as acidic. The apartments are of paler blue, clouds now darkly thunderous; and the container on the back of the truck is a rusty iron red. The strident shout of the study has become subtler. As Ronald Millar wrote in his review of the brilliant 1978 solo exhibition in which both works were shown, 'Jeffrey Smart convinces because he transforms and intensifies the real and makes it into revelation.'2

1. O'Grady, D., 'Agog at Coke crates', Age, 11 March 1978
2. Millar, R., 'Urban visions from foreign lands', Australian, 10 April 1978, p. 8