Part 1: Important Fine Art
27 November 2013


(1891 - 1974)

oil and gouache on cardboard on plywood

39.5 x 43.0 cm

signed lower left: IFairweather

$80,000 - 120,000
Sold for $84,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 32 - 27 November 2013, Melbourne

Collection of Lina Bryans, Melbourne
Thence by descent
Private collection, Melbourne


Fairweather: a Retrospective Exhibition, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 3 June – 4 July 1965; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 21 July – 22 August 1965; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 9 September – 10 October 1965; National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 26 October – 21 November 1965; Western Australian Art Gallery, Perth, 9 December 1965 – 16 January 1966; Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 10 February – 13 March 1966, cat. 75 (label attached verso)
Ian Fairweather 1891–1974, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 25 September – 6 November 1991 (as'Portrait (Young Boy)', label attached verso)


Bail, M., Ian Fairweather, Bay Books, Sydney, 1981, cat. 53, p. 68, fig. 23 (illus.)

Catalogue text

Painted in Cairns, where Ian Fairweather had moved in 1939, Portrait is one of a small group of works in which his empathy for the people among whom he was living is paramount. Others include Lads Boxing, 1939, likewise capturing the physical attraction of the young people, and the masterly Landlady and Daughter, Cairns, 1942, sold earlier this year. Among the Malays, Aborigines and Islanders in Malay Town on the Alligator Creek, Fairweather felt at one with his environment and its people, a harmony that pervades these special paintings. Murray Bail, in his study of Fairweather, tells us that he felt so at home that he turned to painting almost immediately.1 Within a month four paintings had been sent to William Frater in Melbourne - two versions of Alligator Creek at Cairns, Lads Boxing and our painting, Portrait. They were, Bail informs us, Fairweather's last oil paintings, from July 1939 adopting gouache instead.2

As a subject, Ian Fairweather's portrait of the young boy has an innocence and introspection that is captivating. Indirect in look, the figure has an inner quietude and self-possession while all around him forms of paint move with gusto. Through the movement of brush and appealing colour, the artist's response to what he saw and felt can still be shared today. Fairweather's combined use of gouache and oil gave him that extra freedom of execution enabling him to achieve such engagement of informality. Aesthetically, the painting is even more compelling. An overall mural flatness, contrasted with form detailed in the shadows cast, is worked back, through the lively brush strokes, into a patterning of colour and shape. It recalls the visual excitement found in an Oriental rug with all its complexities harmonised into one, but equally enjoyable through each detail. In Portrait, as in other works, this is further enriched by the play between figuration and abstraction; verisimilitude relevant only in so much as it is an integral part of the whole.

In 1965, Laurie Thomas, director of the Queensland Art gallery, organised a retrospective exhibition of eighty-eight paintings and drawings as homage to Fairweather. It toured the State galleries to great applause. An indication of the regard in which Portrait has been held is given by its inclusion in that memorable show. Whatever the labours, Portrait and its fellow three paintings of 1939 have that sense of ease of achievement which is the hallmark of remarkable talent.

1. Bail, M., Ian Fairweather, Bay Books, Sydney, 1981, pp. 65, 68
2. Ibid., p. 68