oil on board
48.0 x 36.0 cm
signed and dated lower right: JEFF SMART 40
inscribed on frame verso: Smart / Smart / won!
Barbara Woodward, Adelaide, acquired directly from the artist
Thence by descent
Private collection, London
Quartermaine, P., Jeffrey Smart, Gryphon Books, Melbourne, 1983, cat. 166, p. 102 (dated as 1948)
It is often the case that the back story to a painting is as colourful as the picture itself. Zinnias, 1940, is one Jeffrey Smart’s earliest known oil paintings and was created as a result of a challenge laid down by his close friend, the present owner’s late great aunt, Barbara Woodward. Barbara was complaining to Smart that he never painted flowers; ‘Why don’t you ever paint flowers Jeffrey, I’d bet you couldn’t paint me a nice picture of flowers’. The nineteen year old Jeffrey Smart responded saying that he wouldn’t do it, even if she paid him.
As the story is told, sometime later Jeffrey Smart returned to Barbara with this painting declaring ‘stop whinging, here, you can have these thirteen zinnias for thirteen “guinnias”’. Adelaide folk lore has since adapted the story to be ten zinnias for ten ‘guinnias’, however there are thirteen zinnias in the composition, therefore the former account prevails. A delightful footnote to this anecdote is the inscription verso which simply says ‘Smart Won!’
The painting demonstrates the artist’s early preference for bright secondary colour. The play of light and refraction seen on the glass vase hints at Smart’s early interest in seventeenth century Dutch still life painting, but it was the local South Australian artist Horace Trenerry who had a profound effect on Smart’s early development.
Living in a grand mansion, albeit it in relative poverty at the time, Horace Trenerry was a major figure on the Adelaide art scene in the thirties and forties. Smart greatly admired ‘Tren’s’ paintings, which he had seen in the houses of friends around Adelaide and finally met the artist in 1947. Trenerry’s measured application of paint and gentle modernist arrangements combine to create compositions within compositions and this is something that Smart recognised and developed through his career. But perhaps it was Trenerry’s manner of juxtaposing architectural features and organic forms which spoke most to the young Jeffrey Smart and instilled his lasting interest in the geometry of painting.
It is fascinating when reflecting on Jeffrey Smart’s enormous contribution to Australian art to consider this modest early example and the circumstances in which it came into being and to marvel at what was to follow.
Deutscher and Hackett gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Stephen Rogers, Archivist for the Estate of Jeffrey Smart, in cataloguing this work.