Important Australian + International Fine Art
1 September 2010

Charles Blackman

born 1928

oil on composition board

44.5 x 57.5 cm

signed with initial and dated lower left: B.53. JAN

$40,000 - 60,000

Probably Peter Bray Gallery, Melbourne, 1953
Private collection, New South Wales
Private collection, Melbourne
Deutscher and Hackett, Melbourne, 9 May 2007, lot 3
Company collection, Melbourne


Probably Charles Blackman, Peter Bray Gallery, Melbourne, 1953

Catalogue text

'...Blackman's work certainly has a power that carries the spectator right into the picture. His Man Floating has been apprehended in the very act of floating... But Blackman's concepts are not painterly, or linear or tonal, they are psychological. And psychology, however powerfully presented cannot carry the picture by itself.'1

Closely related to his controversial drawing The Swimmer, the present work illustrates well the highly expressive style which had attracted such vehement condemnation following Blackman's first solo exhibition at Peter Bray Gallery in May 1953. Truly a sucés de scandale, the drawing was featured in the Herald, alongside a litany of letters denouncing its subject variously as 'a moronic contortionist' or 'drunk who has fallen on his back in a mud hole'2 - barbs which could equally have been applied to Man Floating 1953. In Blackman's defence, renowned art critic Alan McCulloch attempted to elucidate the artist's intentions for such works, describing their theme as psychology interpreted in terms of spatial relationships:

' is made aware of a futile energy; energy generated by man's eternal fear of the sea, and the ego that drives him always to demonstrate his superiority... Blackman's figure has ventured beyond the limits of safety - his features are presented in their most expressive aspects, the distortion carried logically into every department of the picture, underlying the general feeling.'3

Commenting later upon The Swimmer, Blackman asserted 'I have no actual explanation of the drawing to offer. My work is visual, not with words. But I did seek to express the fear of the swimmer, and his attempt to overcome this fear...'4 Rather than depict a specific narrative or incident, Man Floating is, in a similar vein, an intensely emotive and personal image, drawing inspiration from both the artist's love of swimming at St Kilda beach and his vivid experience of reading Jules Supervielle's The Colonel's Daughter - particularly, the final tragic moment when, after jumping overboard so the waifs he has collected can inherit his fortune, the colonel realises that his will is still in the pocket of his jacket.5

1. McCulloch, A., Herald, 10 February 1953
2. Shapcott, T., Focus on Charles Blackman, University of Queensland, St Lucia, 1967, p. 21
3. McCulloch, A., Herald, 19 May 1953
4. Blackman cited in Herald, 25 May 1953
5. St John Moore, F., Charles Blackman: Schoolgirls and Angels, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, p. 36