PROFILE II, 1978

Important Australian + International Fine Art
Melbourne
24 April 2013
20

JOEL ELENBERG

(1948 - 1980)
PROFILE II, 1978

white Carrara marble on painted metal base

222.0 cm height including base

signed with monogram at base: JE
signed and dated on base: ELENBERG 78

Estimate: 
$160,000 - 220,000
Sold for $216,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 29 - 24 April 2013, Melbourne
Provenance

Robin Gibson Galleries, Sydney
Private collection, Queensland, acquired from the above in 1978
Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 8 September 2004, lot 16
Private collection, Melbourne

Exhibited

Joel Elenberg: Stone Carving 1977–1978, Robin Gibson Galleries, Sydney, 10–28 October 1978, cat. 3 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)

Catalogue text

'Joel loved pure, totemic forms that reached up to some kind of Jungian mandala, some kind of abstract absolute based on nature. The romantic side of him found this refined, archetypal image in the head of Anna, his beautiful Jewish wife.'1Profile II, 1978 is the serene embodiment of Whiteley's reflections upon his friend's remarkable sculptural output. It was a key work in Elenberg's 1978 exhibition at Robin Gibson Galleries, Sydney which featured the elegant and minimalist heads of his wife Anna and Wendy Whiteley. The show attracted much acclaim with one critic commenting that 'Elenberg has the whole Sydney art world eating out of his hand.'2 The two artists met in 1970 and thus began one of the great artistic friendships of 20th century Australian art. As Barry Pearce observed, 'The two were instantly magnetised to each other' and a period of fertile cross-pollination of ideas and artistic practice evolved into a superb group of works referencing each other in manner reminiscent of Picasso and Matisse.3 This culminated in 1979 when Elenberg shared Whiteley's studio at Lavender Bay giving rise to numerous works by the painter featuring the elongated forms of his friend's sculptures often posited alongside nudes and Whiteley's own drawings. Profile II features in Whiteley's Portrait of Joel Elenberg, 1980 (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney) as an immortal counterpoint to his friend's vulnerable body ravaged by his cancer and the effects of its treatment.

Elenberg was ostensibly a painter but he was drawn to three-dimensional forms through his passion for Aboriginal and Oceanic art. This coupled with a prodigious talent for carving saw him emerge as one of Australia's most revered sculptors whose work was tragically cut short by his premature death at the age of 32. The mastery inherent in Profile II belies the fact that Elenberg only began carving stone in 1976 following a watershed journey to Carrara in Tuscany. Here he discovered a village of artists and master stone masons who had honed their art through generations of selecting, cutting and carving the local marble for important sculptures and monuments throughout the world. While his work in bronze has an archaic sense of the antique, the inherent luminosity of his marble sculptures and their impossibly delicate elongated forms place them in a category that transcends all precedents.

1. McGrath, S., 'Marble Star', The Weekend Australian, 14-5 October 1978, p. 6
2. Ibid.
3. Pearce, B., Brett Whiteley: Art and Life, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1995, p. 40

LARA NICHOLLS