Important Australian + International Fine Art
24 April 2013


born 1928

oil and enamel on pulpboard

63.5 x 77.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: BLACKMAN 57

$45,000 - 65,000
Sold for $36,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 29 - 24 April 2013, Melbourne

Private collection, Melbourne
Sotheby's, Melbourne, 25 August 1997, lot 227
Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne (label attached verso)
Private collection, United States of America


Shapcott, T., The Art of Charles Blackman, Andre Deutsch, London, 1989, pl. 38 (illustration reversed)

Catalogue text

On first looking at Charles Blackman's Sleeping, 1957 one cannot but be moved by the wondrous tranquility of the childlike face, eyes closed gently and in the happy realm of dreams. Golden-haired, she is not a child but a young woman, protected by the large fields of enfolding white, the contrasting depths of black evoking the overarching shield of night. The simplicity of its masterly handling is almost breath taking. All the more so when viewed through the biographical lens that reveals the deeply personal, subconscious side of the painting. Barbara Blackman was expecting their first child, Auguste, suggested by the swelling of the bedclothes. She was also slipping into the fearful blackness of the blind. The girl's closed eyes are a harbinger of many to come as Blackman explored his wife's affliction in paintings of women in isolation. This unseeing was made the more poignant by the addition of images of beauty, especially flowers, and the use of colours lyrical and poetic. With black as a metaphor of blindness, it reaches out to embrace night and the long sleep echoed in the recumbent pose and angelic quietude. Yet, the pregnant form heralds the joys of new life. Her hair could not be more golden, itself a metaphor of an ideal age, nor the flesh tones so alive. Therein lies the paradox of life in which mortality also has its place.

The directness of statement and exactness of imagery give the painting a surreal quality, the style devoted to the exploration of dreams itself now used to dream. Sleeping is also linked to Blackman's Alice in Wonderland Series which he began painting in about April of the year before and exhibited at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in February 1957. Not only does the sleeping figure take on the likeness the young golden-haired Alice, it also explores the irrationality of reason so much a feature of Lewis Carroll's character. It likewise shares the bland and direct nature of some of the titles of his then current paintings shown in his 1957 Brisbane exhibition - Face, Dream, Hand. Judith Wright in the foreword to the exhibition, wrote, 'Where some painters stimulate us by their energy, grace or wit, what we remember of Blackman's paintings is, above all, their depth of meaning.'1 As so in Sleeping, which embraces depth of meaning with beauty and poignancy, courageously intimate in its revelations and strikingly inventive of imagery.

1. Wright, J., 'Foreword', Charles Blackman, Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane, 19 June - 1 July 1957