Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 August 2012


born 1928

oil on canvas on composition board

122.0 x 151.0 cm

signed and dated lower left: John Olsen 63

$120,000 - 160,000
Sold for $228,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 26 - 29 August 2012, Melbourne

Sotheby's, Melbourne, 31 July 1985, lot 59
Wesfarmers Art Collection, Perth (label attached verso)


John Olsen: Recent Paintings, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 1–18 October 1963 (as 'Portrait Landscape')
twelve, Hungry Horse Art Gallery, Paddington, Sydney, December 1963 (illus. in accompanying 1964 calendar as 'Portrait Landscape')
The Song of the Lamb: The Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 19 August – 2 October 1989


Gooding, J., Topliss, H., Sharkey, C., and Horridge, N., The Song of the Lamb: The Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 1989, p. 97 (illus.)

Catalogue text

During the early sixties, as Abstract Expressionism was growing in stature, John Olsen produced paintings that captured the mood of the time with a special feeling for the Australian character and landscape. The 'You Beaut Country' series of 1961-63, and such works as Half Past Six at the Fitzroy 1963 (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide), summed up the Australian ethos as he saw it. A youthful exuberance touched with larrikinism found its pulse beat in the restless sprawl of the city, in pub culture and robust vulgarity, the striking individuality of the scenes presented in like terms. Journey into the You Beaut Country No.1 1961 in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and Spring in the You Beaut Country 1961 in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, are idiosyncratic views of the entanglement of land and life. Recognised as a young artist of enormous talent, the sixties saw some of the best pictures he ever painted. Following his move to Watsons Bay in 1963, he crowned the year with spectacular seaport paintings influenced by his proximity to Sydney Harbour. Chief among these are Entrance to the Siren City of the Rat Race (on loan to Macquarie University, Sydney), its companion, Entrance to the Seaport of Desire (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney), and our painting, All Around the Harbour.

Olsen readily identified with the extraordinarily sensuous coastlines, sweeping bays, rolling surf and landforms. The busy seaports and blue deep waters of the Pacific were inherent with that raw energy and exuberance which distinguishes his earlier work. In each of these aerial views everything seems to be happening at once in an engaging chaos of calligraphy and inventiveness. As Deborah Hart observed in her masterly monograph on Olsen, 'His works now abounded in figurative imagery fused into a topography of human emotions and experience.'1 Spontaneity of handling allowed an easy interplay between figuration and abstraction, its infectious enthusiasm, colourfully and emotionally charged with the enjoyment of life. The sense of movement in All Around the Harbour is so striking that the voluptuous landforms seem to metamorphose into creatures of the sea. Baleful of eye, Octopus-like, their spotted tentacles are ready to snatch the viewer into the bosom of the painting. Through the presence of octopus and fish shapes in All Around the Harbour, Olsen adds gustatory delights to the many other pleasures that Sydney has to offer.

1. Hart, D., John Olsen, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1991, p. 49