Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 August 2012


(1912 - 1981)

watercolour and pencil on paper

48.0 x 68.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: Russell Drysdale ‘37

$20,000 - 30,000
Sold for $45,600 (inc. BP) in Auction 26 - 29 August 2012, Melbourne

George Bell, Melbourne
Thence by descent to the artist's daughter, Antoinette Niven, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne


The Drawings of Russell Drysdale, 1980 Perth Survey of Drawing, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 21 February – 15 March 1980; and then touring to Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 April – 18 May 1980; Brisbane Civic Art Gallery and Museum, Brisbane, 2 July – 1 August 1980; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 6 September – 19 October 1980


Klepac, L., The Drawings of Russell Drysdale,1980 Perth Survey of Drawing, Art Gallery ofWestern Australia, Perth, 1980, cat. 6, p. 53,pl. 3, p. 68 (illus.)
Eagle, M., and Minchin, J., The George Bell School:Students, Friends and Influences, Deutscher ArtPublications, Melbourne, 1981, p. 96 (illus.)
Klepac, L., The Life and Work of RussellDrysdale, Bay Books, Sydney, 1983, pp. 197,365, pl. 8 (illus. as'Composition (Nudes)')

Catalogue text

Composition 1937 comes from the time Russell Drysdale was at the George Bell Bourke Street school where Paul Cézanne was much admired. It shows Drysdale's then considerable interest in the French master, reproductions of whose work he had seen at Gino Nibbi's Leonardo Art Shop. Fellow student Geoff Jones recalled Drysdale 'coming into the studio one day 'full of excitement. He'd seen more Cézanne prints at Nibbi's of such good quality you could see the paint surface'.1 It was a period of intense learning, as Drysdale later remarked, 'Every influence around the place flooded me, and I seized it.'2 This lively influence of Cézanne on the early work of Drysdale is seen at its best in Composition 1937. While present in other watercolour drawings of the time as The Card Players 1935/37 and Stacking Wood, Heidelberg 1937, Composition has a special grandeur about it. Recalling, in subject and composition, the great Bathers paintings of Cézanne, Drysdale's female forms are likewise pleasingly rotund. Moreover, the vibrancy of the composition is achieved by a similar interplay between dynamic diagonals and the vivacity of the lights and darks across the picture plane. Frieze like, it has a certain classical, monumental quality which one associates with grand, large-sized compositions or murals. This same quality can be found in other works of 1937 as the pen, ink and water colour Sketch for Tempera Composition and the oil painting Men Mixing Concrete, both of which were included in the Drysdale retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1960.

Another important influence was Ian Fairweather. Drysdale, like his fellow students, was greatly impressed by Fairweather's work, as seen in the design and flowing, arabesquelines of Composition. In recollection, Drysdale said,'I was affected by Fairweather becausehe was to me the first example of a draughtsman that I'd seen. He had a quality that to my uninformed mind was unmistakable.' 3 Writing in the foreword to the exhibition of drawings at Joseph Brown's Gallery in 1981, Patrick McCaughey said, 'Russell Drysdale's gifts as a draughtsman were recognized from the start and they have remained central to any understanding and appreciation of his art.'4 Composition reveals the influence of Bell's teaching and the work of Cézanne and Fairweather on the gifted Drysdale at an important stage in his development. They are the attire, as it were, in which he then clothed his progressive realization of his prodigious talent leading to the extraordinary individuality of his images of outback Australia and Australians. As a key step in this development, Composition is a very commanding work in its own right.

1. Jones quoted in Eagle, M., and Minchin, J., The George Bell School: Students, Friends and Influences, Deutscher Art Publications, Melbourne, 1981, p. 96. Drysdale's interest went so far that he even bought a copy of Fritz Novotnoy's book on Cézanne, published that same year of 1937
2. Drysdale, film transcript interview, Visual Arts Board, Australia Council, Sydney, 1975, quoted in Klepac, L.,The Life and Work of Russell Drysdale, Bay Books, Sydney, 1983, p. 25
3. Drysdale quoted in Eagle, op. cit., p. 96. Drysdale owned one of Fairweather's paintings at this time.
4. McCaughey, P., 'Foreword', Russell Drysdale Drawings 1935-1980, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 1980, no pagination