Important Australian + International Fine Art
20 April 2011


born 1921

synthetic polymer paint on canvas on composition board

60.5 x 50.5 cm

signed lower right: JEFFREY SMART

$140,000 - 180,000
Sold for $156,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 19 - 20 April 2011, Melbourne

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

Catalogue text

Study for Portrait of David Malouf, c.1980 by Jeffrey Smart is one of two paintings by the artist in which acclaimed Australian novelist David Malouf is cast in the guise of a labourer. The second such painting, slightly larger than the one on offer, is in the Collection of the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Together they are amongst Smart's more compelling portrait works, amongst which are portrayals of Germaine Greer and Margaret Olley. Painted a year after Malouf's novel 'An imaginary life' won the New South Wales Premier's Literary Award, the painting may be read as a response to both the author and this major fictional work. To understand why, we need look no further than the signage emblazoned on the truck in the background of the composition, where the word 'Ovidio' appears. A commercial name it may be, but in terms of Malouf's novel, which focuses on the Roman poet Ovid, the meaning becomes apparent. Ovid was a poet whose exile amongst the barbarians coloured his poetical works. Malouf moreover is a novelist of considerable imaginative force even when confronted by otherwise seemingly banal settings. His guise here as labourer is slightly undercut by his rather urbane footwear, and as Smart himself remarked, 'his splendid and arresting profile.'1 The subtle arrangement of elements is confirmed by gallery director Edmond Capon who notes, 'The ambiguities of [Smart's] subjects and juxtapositions pose questions that are simply not resolved through an explanation of technique and the satisfaction of compositional fulfillment, and we are left to ponder both mood and interpretation.'2 Malouf and Smart are both residents of Italy, and Malouf acted as model for these and other studies, the likes of which enabled the artist to develop a major subsequent canvas in which a plastic tube first held by Malouf becomes a prominent compositional element, most notably in The plastic tube, 1980. Malouf was amongst twenty-nine Australian writers invited to respond to Jeffrey Smart's most famous painting The Cahill Express Way, 1962, the resulting short stories being published in the Penguin anthology Express Way, 1989. Portrait of David Malouf, therefore may be seen as Smart's reciprocal homage, a response to a much admired author.

1. Jeffrey Smart cited in Jeffrey Smart: paintings and drawings 1942 - 2001, Australian Galleries, 2001, p. 103
2. Edmund Capon cited ibid.