KANGAROOS FEEDING, 1945

Important Australian and International Fine Art + Important Indigenous Art
Melbourne
29 November 2017
2

MARGARET PRESTON

(1875 – 1963)
KANGAROOS FEEDING, 1945

oil on canvas

40.5 x 40.5 cm

signed and dated lower right: M. PRESTON / 45

Estimate: 
$120,000 – 160,000
Provenance

Eric Wilson, Sydney
Artlovers Gallery, New South Wales (label attached verso, cat. 4466)
Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, acquired from the above in 1968
Private collection, Melbourne
Thence by descent
Private collection, Melbourne

Exhibited

Society of Artists Annual Exhibition, Education Department's Art Gallery, Sydney, 24 August – 12 September 1945, cat. 78

Literature

Margaret Preston Catalogue Raisonné of paintings, monotypes and ceramics, “Exhibitions / Lectures / Articles” (1945), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005, CD-ROM compiled by Mimmocchi, D., with Edwards, D., and Peel, R.

Catalogue text

Known by some of her peers as ‘Mad Maggie’, Margaret Preston was a woman of formidable character, opinionated, outspoken, energetic and determined. Only months after the outbreak of the Second World War, she travelled to Injalak Hill (Oenpelli) in Arnhem Land to view Indigenous rock art sites, also visiting Melville and Bathurst Islands, as well as Kakadu. She had long been interested in Aboriginal art which was the central element in her campaign for the development of a distinctive and authentic Australian art. As she wrote in 1925, ‘In wishing to rid myself of the mannerisms of a country other than my own I have gone to the art of a people who had never seen or known anything different from themselves … These are the Australian Aboriginals and it is only from the art of such people that a national art can spring.’1

Preston’s first experience of rock painting and carving was at Berowra, north of Sydney, where she lived during the 1930s and while her understanding of the cultural and spiritual significance of Aboriginal art was initially superficial, in time she came to realise that it ‘was a form of spiritual connection to, and knowledge of, the country … which simultaneously expressed both concept and place’.2 The revelatory experience of the 1940 trip had an immediate and profound impact on her art with a series of radical landscapes being inaugurated later that year. While their subject was not surprising, and the temporary move away from the familiar still life brought Preston into alignment with the strongest theme in Australian art, her treatment of the landscape was unlike anything that had ever been seen before.

One of around twenty-five landscape paintings that Preston produced between 1940 – 46, Kangaroos Feeding, 1945 is characteristic in its use of the principles and styles of Aboriginal art, as well as its distinctive palette of black, browns and ochres. All the paintings in this group are linked by their restrained colouration which automatically makes a visual connection to the natural environment. Preston brought ochres back from the Northern Territory and ground them to make her own pigments, using ‘only the simplest of earth colours so that the mind will see before the eye’.3 As related works such as Aboriginal Landscape, 1941 (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide) and Flying over the Shoalhaven River, 1942 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) show, pattern and decorative detail remain important elements in these paintings. Preston borrowed the techniques of dotting and cross-hatching that she had seen in Aboriginal rock art and bark painting, as well as using black paint to outline and emphasise particular forms – the ground in this picture for example, is broken up into sections, each differently coloured and patterned, reminiscent of a patchwork quilt. Preston’s focus is very clearly on the landscape in this painting and, with the presence of grazing kangaroos, it is a landscape that could only be Australian. Sunrays in the upper right corner introduce an unusual narrative element to the image which speaks optimistically of a new day and a peaceful and prosperous future for Australia following the end of the war. 4

1. Preston, M., ‘The Indigenous Art of Australia’, Art in Australia, 3rd series, no. 11, March 1925, unpaginated
2. Edwards, D. and Peel, R. with Mimmocchi, D., Margaret Preston, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005. Reprint, Thames & Hudson, Sydney, 2016, p. 174
3. ibid., p. 187
4. Dated 1945, this painting was exhibited in Sydney in an exhibition that opened on 24 August, less than two weeks after the official end of the Second World War in the Pacific.

KIRSTY GRANT