Important Australian + International Fine Art
31 August 2011


born 1928

oil on cardboard

76.0 x 63.0 cm

signed lower right: CHARLES BLACKMAN

$55,000 - 65,000
Sold for $60,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 21 - 31 August 2011, Melbourne

Frank Werther, Dunmoochin, Victoria, a gift from the artist
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

When Charles Blackman exhibited his Schoolgirl series in his first solo show at Melbourne's Peter Bray Gallery, Herald art critic Alan McCulloch hailed the new talent enthusiastically. 'In Blackman's hands John Shaw Neilson's schoolgirl becomes a creature of endless aesthetic possibilities. With literally nothing in the way of subject matter to help him, this young artist has created a series of paintings which are at once exciting and extremely stimulating.'1

For Blackman, the initial inspiration was personal. Each day he watched the children of his neighbourhood riding bikes, playing on swings, and walking to and from school. The setting was Melbourne's bland inner suburban landscape of terrace houses and empty streets, all industrially overhung. The impact of Neilson's poetry came after he started painting.

Fear it has faded and the night.
The bells all peal the hour of nine.
Schoolgirls all hastening through the light
Touch the unknowable divine.2

As in the later Alice in Wonderland paintings, Blackman showed his singular ability to describe the world from a child's point of view. While outward appearances have their interests, the significance of these paintings lies in the presentation of psychological states through images of children and their surroundings. Thomas Shapcott wrote of these paintings as having 'a disturbing power to haunt and involve us in their emotionally vulnerable images of childhood as a grotesque and defenseless world.'3 It is therefore of no surprise to find that a feeling of apprehension permeates these highly individual works. Blackman himself said, 'The Schoolgirl pictures had a lot to do with fear... A lot to do with my isolation as a person and my quite paranoid fears of loneliness...'.4 In this very fine example from the series, Schoolgirls with Tram Tracks c1952, inner feelings are expressed through the apprehensive sideways look and the shaded eyes peering out from beneath the school hat. The two main figures press close to the picture surface, the restricted pictorial space adding to the emotional tension. There is a palpable feeling of isolation, the loneliness of childhood and vulnerability. Any awkwardness of posture and presentation becomes a device to express such feelings. Moreover, Blackman uses colour - a mix of pinks and blues with a yellow highlight - as well as forms to set the mood and pursue self-exploration through the personas of others. Although the three schoolgirls occupy most of the painting, the surrounding background of empty tram tracks, anonymous building, and overhanging lamp, creates an ominous feeling. Nevertheless, and whatever might be, Blackman evokes an engaging feeling of tenderness and nostalgia for that time when innocence begins to be troubled by experience.

1. Quoted in Shapcott, T., The Art of Charles Blackman, Andre Deutsch Ltd., London, 1989, p. 10
2. Neilson, J.S., Schoolgirls Hastening, quoted in Shapcott, ibid, p. 11
3. Shapcott, T., Focus on Charles Blackman, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1967, p. 18
4. Shapcott, 1989, op. cit., p. 11