Important Australian + International Fine Art
1 September 2010

John Brack

(1920 - 1999)

oil on canvas

38.5 x 84.0 cm

signed and dated upper right: John Brack 53
inscribed verso: THREE OF THE PLAYERS

$800,000 - 1,000,000
Sold for $900,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 16 - 1 September 2010, Sydney

Peter Bray Gallery, Melbourne
Robin Boyd, Melbourne, purchased from the above in 1953
Thence by descent
Patricia Boyd, Melbourne
The Estate of Patricia Davies (formerly Mrs Robin Boyd), Melbourne


8 Melbourne Painters, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, August 1953
Paintings and Drawings of John Brack, Peter Bray Gallery, Melbourne, 27 October – 5 November 1953, cat. 7
An Australian Album: Time Past – Time Present, Georges Gallery, Melbourne, October 1966, cat. 60
John Brack: Selected Paintings 1947 – 1977, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Gallery, Melbourne, 15 March – 1 April 1977, cat. 6
John Brack Retrospective: Paintings and Drawings, 1945 – 1977, Australian National University, Canberra, 21 September – 16 October 1977, cat. 12, pl. 12 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)
John Brack: A Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 10 December 1987 – 31 January 1988, cat. 13
John Brack, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 24 April – 9 August 2009, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2 October 2009 – 26 January 2010 (label attached verso)


McCulloch, A., 'The little man in paint', Herald, 27 October 1953, p. 10
Shore, A., 'We can all enjoy art like this', Argus, 28 October 1953, p. 4
Shore, A., 'Brack made a prophecy come true', Australasian Post, 26 November 1953, pp. 28–29 (illus.)
Boyd, R., Living in Australia, Pergamon Press, Sydney, 1970, p. 62 (illus.)
Millar, R., John Brack, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1971, p. 105
Lindsay, R., John Brack: A Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1987, pp. 15, 116, 130–131, 138
Grishin, S., The Art of John Brack, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1990, vol. I, p. 184, vol. II, cat. o24, pp. 5, 87 (illus.)
Grant, K., John Brack, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2009, p. 96, p. 28 (illus.)

Catalogue text

John Brack's first solo show in 1953 was an outstanding affair, successfully launching his career and setting the stage for the next few years. It heralded an artist of rare quality. Not only were the fifteen paintings in the exhibition first class works of art, they also captured their time and its idiosyncrasies more powerfully and succinctly than any Australian artist before or since. Brack forged the iconography of a decade on canvas as sharply as Barry Humphries did on stage. Held at the Peter Bray Gallery, Melbourne in late 1953, each of the paintings exhibited was a classic, the regard in which they were held confirmed by the public and prominent private collections in which they soon found themselves. The Barber's Shop 1952 had already been acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, in February 1953. It was Brack's first work to enter a public collection. The Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, added The Short Street 1953 to its collection from his solo show. And years later, when the National Gallery of Australia was established, it snared Men's Wear 1953 from the show for Canberra. The astute private collectors could and did move faster, Robin Boyd, then one of Australia's leading architects purchasing Three of the Players 1953 for his home. This was the year that Boyd formed his famous partnership with Frederick Romberg and Roy Grounds, the dynamic but turbulent firm which inspired the nation's architectural profession until the partnership split almost a decade later. But Boyd was not alone in his astute buying, the exhibition receiving strong support from friends and artists, including Lenton Parr, Arnold Shore and Eric Thake.1

Robin Boyd (1919 - 1971), younger son of painter Penleigh Boyd (1890 - 1923) was another outstanding member of the famous Boyd dynasty, and, like Brack, an acute observer of the age. Regarded as Australia's foremost proponent of modern architecture, he espoused the International Modern Movement, and communicated widely and perceptively as a columnist, author and broadcaster. Highly conscious of and sensitive to his times, his nine books include Australia's Home 1952, the first substantial history of Australian domestic architecture, and the hugely popular and controversial The Australian Ugliness 1960 - this year reprinted in its fiftieth anniversary edition - an incisive attack on prevailing tastes and still very much relevant today. With his focus on innovative domestic architecture, Boyd became Australia's best-known architect, recognised nationally and internationally.2

Three of the Players hung in Boyd's Walsh Street South Yarra home for over forty years. It must have appealed to Boyd on several levels not least being its perfect blend of acuteness of perception and sharpness of execution, all enlivened by Brack's singular wit. Three of the Players, all short back and sides, considers the serious matter of football, Melbourne's everlasting passion epitomised by the devotion to, if not fanaticism of, the Collingwood Football Club. In 1953 Collingwood broke its seventeen-year drought and won the Premiership the month before Brack's exhibition opened. Seeking verities beyond the everyday suburban fringe, Brack wittily likens the three Collingwood football personalities in their black and white striped jumpers to three types of players as present in the ages of man. The bulk of youth looks observantly to the older player, eye-lined with experience, while dogged determination is captured in the maturity of the manly profile. The up close focus emphasises their physical presence. The unspoken word is 'The Club', represented by the triumvirate of the past, present and future. Like so much of Brack's work, it shows an engaged detachment about what the human race is up to, contrasting passionate social behaviour with cool presentation.

With the exception of Three of the Players, many of the paintings in Brack's 1953 solo exhibition introduced subjects and themes that were soon to populate his work. Ideas explored in The Jockey and His Wife later found masterly fulfilment in the paintings of The Racecourse Series, as did Man in the Pub in his masterpiece The Bar 1954. The Bar featured in Brack's next show at the Peter Bray Gallery in 1955, its purchase by Bill a'Beckett, Robin Boyd's cousin, being strongly influenced by Boyd. The Bar is now one of the treasures of the Australian collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. Three of the Players stands as Brack's unique comment on canvas observing the deeper but universal emotions of the national game, Australian Rules Football.

1. Grishin, S., The Art of John Brack, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1990, Vol. 1, p. 44
2. Serle, G., Robin Boyd: A Life, Melbourne University Press, 1995, p. 190