Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 November 2007

Jeffrey Smart

born 1921

oil on canvas

68.0 x 100.0 cm

signed lower right: JEFFREY SMART

$350,000 - $450,000
Sold for $600,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 3 - 29 November 2007, Melbourne

Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Private collection, Sydney(on loan to the Orange Regional Gallery since 2005)


Jeffrey Smart, Australian Galleries, Sydney, 2003 (label attached verso)
Philanthropy Rules OK?, Orange Regional Gallery, New South Wales, 10 March - 23 April, 2006


Grishin, S., 'Jeffrey Smart's Eternal Order of Light and Balance' in Jeffrey Smart: Paintings and Studies 2002-2003, Australian Galleries, Melbourne 2003, p.13 (illus.)

Catalogue text

Figures in isolation have always been a feature of Jeffrey Smart's art and they play a central role in Sunbathers at Construction Site, 2003. Even the finely presented nude sunbathing couple do not talk to each other. The male lies face down and the woman in sunglasses stares out of the picture, her look almost challenging the viewer's intrusion. The older figure enjoying the sun has his back to them, the contrast in ages perhaps suggesting that from maturity to old age we have a communication problem. The evolution of this painting through its two oil studies endorses this view. Of the other figures in the painting, the one caught in the sunlight is surrounded by shadows and stands alone. Nobody joins the running figure on the shoreline. Only in the far distance do the figures seem to engage with each other, although there is no movement suggesting any kind of reciprocity. Even the forms of construction seem isolated; the dynamic angles immobilised by their own weight, immaculately contrived and balanced. Yet, the sunlit and shaded areas do echo in harmony as if to express an engagement not found among the humans present. It is, of course, a typical example of a Smart still life painting -extremely still, compositional movement finely counterbalanced, except for the seagulls wheeling in the sky, which is painted in characteristically impending colours. It is possible to read Smart's paintings in purely formal terms of immaculate technique, colours and shapes, as studies of the effects of light. But that is only the means and ignores that his light is also metaphysical. While Smart, in the past, has spoken of his figures as mere props within his compositions, they have increasingly become metaphors of anonymity, representatives of a culture wedded to the means of communication yet unable to communicate effectively as members. This relationship between Smart's technique and philosophy is indivisible. In a painting devoid of conversation, it is no accident that the nude male sunbather listens to his portable radio. In his essays on the human condition, Smart plays on the strings of the contemporary environment, impersonal, still, silent, unnatural. And then he bathes the scene in the gentlest of light, cool and detached as reason. He sees and records the paradox of life, creating paintings, as in Sunbathers at Construction Site, 2003, of extraordinary beauty, technically accomplished, compositionally refined, and seductive of colour. Jeffrey Smart remains a master of detachment passionately felt.