Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 November 2008

Garry Shead

born 1942

oil on composition board

91.5 x 122.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: Garry Shead 96
inscribed and dated verso: THE VISITATION / GARRY SHEAD 96

$90,000 - 120,000

Lyall Burton Gallery, Melbourne
Private collection, Sydney
Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 26 November 2003, lot 45
Private collection, Melbourne


Grishin, S., Encounters with Royalty, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, p. 98, cat. 34 (illus.)

Catalogue text

The Visitation 1996 best encapsulates the awestruck encounter a young, pubescent Garry Shead had with Queen Elizabeth II when he, with tens of thousands of other schoolchildren, welcomed her to the Sydney showgrounds on 5 February, 1954, at the height of summer. For many Australians, it was the most momentous public event in living memory, and more than four decades later, the artist recalled 'I remember seeing her and feeling the eye contact as she passed. There was something unearthly and untouchable in her beaut. She passed like an incarnate spirit'.1

The artist's boyhood fantasies are focused in this painting on a Queen who hovers like a guardian angel over her transfixed subjects, gathered like worshipping disciples around a table, below her. She luminesces in her diaphanous gown, and her crown is a halo, reinforcing her ethereal splendour. Like his all-too-brief vision at the showgrounds, when he was just twelve years old, Garry Shead has depicted his Sovereign as an extraordinary presence who may dematerialize at any moment, but when with her faithful subjects, will do her Royal duty and defend them from all harm.

In Sasha Grishin's view 'Garry Shead's Royal Suite series invites readings on different levels. The series can be interpreted as a historical recreation of a specific royal tour in 1954 as seen through the distorting mirrors of memory and the eyes of a young boy. It is about a young and sexually desirable monarch who floats in the air or walks on red carpet. Crowns hover over her head and her subjects, accompanied by local fauna and flora, assemble to worship her. The series can also be interpreted as an allegory, an expression of naive belief in a white goddess. One who was seen as supernatural, who could not be touched or experienced, but could only be worshipped. She came from a remote place and appeared to her subjects in the form of a celestial apparition. Simultaneously subverting this interpretation was a growing awareness of the sordid reality that surrounded her; a faithless consort and the growing impotence of imperial power. Perhaps on the simplest level, the series is about the quest for a new Holy Grail. It is a tale about the gradual process of disillusionment where realisations of reality gradually dissolve the illusions of the absurd'2

1. Grishin, S., Garry Shead: Encounters with Royalty, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, pp. 11-12
2. ibid., p. 27