Important Australian + International Fine Art
27 August 2008

Jeffrey Smart

born 1921

oil on canvas

37.0 x 52.5 cm

signed lower left: JEFFREY SMART

$130,000 - 160,000

Australian Galleries, Sydney (label attached verso)
Private company collection, Melbourne


Jeffrey Smart, Paintings and Studies 2002 – 2003, Australian Galleries, Sydney, 23 September – 18 October 2003, cat. 11


Grishin, S., 'Jeffrey Smart's Eternal Order of Light and Balance', Jeffrey Smart, Paintings and Studies 2002 – 2003, Australian Galleries, Sydney, 2003, pp. 10 – 11
Pearce, B., Jeffrey Smart, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2005, p. 232 (illus.)

Catalogue text

'When we turn to a painting such as The President factory, 2003, for all of its austerity, one could hardly describe it as unemotional. However, the two tiny marooned figures, ambiguously standing near the fence rail, are hardly the emotional epicenter of the work, rather the emotional content lies in the landscape setting. As one notable art historian wrote of Hopper: 'The emotion with which Hopper's art is charged is concentrated not on humanity but on its setting, on the cities and structures that man has built and among which his life is spent, and on nature with its evidences of man's occupation. His detached attitude toward the human being, and the compensating intensity of his feeling for the human environment, inevitably produce an undertone of loneliness. For all his realism, Hopper was essentially a poet.'

Knowledge of the exact site from which some of the compositional details for The President factory are derived does not particularly enhance our understanding of this painting. It was in fact a scene from a car wrecker's yard in the Arezzo industrial estate, looking directly up a steep and overgrown embankment to a concrete wall of a large factory with a'President' sign on it. On top of the embankment, but concealed by the angle of vision from below, was a busy roadway, so that the tops of trucks would seem to mysteriously glide by. The initial working sketch made by Smart, while seated in his car, largely captures the actuality of the setting. The two smaller studies for The President factory see the growth of a somewhat ambiguous hoarding or wall, with advertising posters for Miro and a circus, in the right-hand side of the composition, thus also dividing the structure into the golden section. Spatially an enormous tension is established between the gentle sloping surface of the billboard with its dramatic and mysterious shadow, the factory wall with its prefabricated concrete shells, the huge diagonally receding'president' sign and the lovingly observed and immaculately depicted wall of grass and flowers which climbs vertically up the embankment.

In the finished large painting of The President factory all extraneous detail has been stripped bare, the geometric severity of the structure has been heightened and the drama of the composition has been allowed to unfold within a wonderful saturating light. Light, its source and direction, is as crucial to the composition as the objects that it illuminates. It articulates the surface of the concrete, the peeling posters, the texture of the grass and through the pattern of light and shade it creates the critical lines of the structure of the design. While it is possible to read the picture in terms of its verbal puns or to contemplate the predicament of the couple perched ambiguously above the precipice apparently in line with the approaching truck, or to consider the improbable scale of the 'president' sign, the true magic of the work lies in the symbolic geometry as revealed through light...'1

1. Grishin, S., 'Jeffrey Smart's Eternal Order of Light and Balance', Jeffrey Smart, Paintings and Studies 2002 - 2003, Australian Galleries, Sydney, 2003, pp. 10 - 11