Important Australian + International Fine Art
20 April 2011


(1920 -1980)

oil on canvas

126.5 x 114.5 cm

signed and dated upper left: EDWIN TANNER 54.6

$40,000 - 55,000
Sold for $72,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 19 - 20 April 2011, Melbourne

Mr and Mrs A. Herpe
Christie's, Melbourne, 24 November 1999, lot 40
Private collection, Victoria


Australian Galleries, Melbourne, cat. 11 (label attached verso)
The ILO Art and Labor Exhibition, Geneva Musee d'Histoire, Department of Labor and National Service, Geneva, Switzerland, June 1957 (label attached verso)
Edwin Tanner Retrospective 1976, Age Gallery, Melbourne, 19 – 29 October 1976, cat. 78



Reid, B., 'Maker and Signmaker – some aspects of the art of Edwin Tanner', Art and Australia, Sydney, vol. 9, no. 3, December 1971, p. 212 (illus.)

Catalogue text

The singularity of Edwin Tanner's art, as seen in Professional Engineers, is marked by a ready wit expressed through a comedy of equally sharp lines, all offset by cool colours. Not only is it a highly striking work visually, it also has a strong intellectual element, drawing on the experiences of his professional career as a design engineer of outstanding achievement. Precision of layout alludes to the plan or blueprint. The refined structures reflect his interest in industrial design - of aircraft, bridge building, and structural design, undertaken at Fishermen's Bend, Newcastle, Whyalla and the Hydro Electricity Commission in Hobart. His Hobart experiences gave birth to the humorous companion painting Waterpower Persons 1954, one of many works on the playful theme of people's inter-relationships with machines and dependence on them. Both show his superb draughtsmanship, the handmaid of engineers. Professional Engineers likewise expresses the artist's personality and vast range of intellectual and creative interests. First there is isolation, not just the emptiness of office order, but also the loneliness that comes from shyness of character, allied to a strong independence and individuality. The eloquence of his characteristic blank space is unrivalled. In The Public Servant 1953, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, isolation is dressed in social commentary and mordant wit. The faceless office is empty as the clock's hand points to 5. And again, in the 1960 drawing Dead Cert, the line is as cutting as the image of the dead horse.

Born in Glamorgan, Wales, Tanner's love of music and poetry was native. A champion cyclist, he embraced such diversities as philosophy, flying planes, and a love of ships. The painting Iron Monarch 1957/70 attests to the latter, The Transcendental World of Musical Enchantment 1966 in the B.H.P Collection to those inspired by music and musicians. Largely representational in his earlier works, a strong abstract current runs throughout his art. The strict layout of Professional Engineers, while extending the narrative of the painting, has a mathematical precision, clarity and balance close to abstraction. In this and other works Tanner shows that he is one of Australia's most original artists in whose work wit and imagination combine to reach heights not enjoyed since the days of Paul Klee.