Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 August 2013


born 1928

gouache and pastel on paper (four panels)

100.0 x 95.0 cm each; 100.0 x 380.0 cm overall

signed, dated and inscribed lower right, right panel: Spring by the / little River / John Olsen 93

$120,000 - 160,000 (4)
Sold for $132,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 30 - 28 August 2013, Sydney

The BP Collection of Australian Art, Melbourne
Sotheby's, Sydney, 25 August 2002, lot 1
Savill Galleries, Sydney (labels attached verso)
Private collection, Queensland

Catalogue text

Spring by the Little River, 1993 is a classic John Olsen. The aerial view encompasses the panorama of the river, the landscape is alive with the twittering bird-life and other harbingers of spring. The whole is full of that joie de vivre that characterizes his best work. There is also that aqueous fluidity that distinguishes his watercolours and harmonizes so completely with the subject of the little river flowing through the landscape. In turn, the landscape resonates with golden yellows, the colour of the sun and life, sun-egg fertility symbols liberally spread throughout. 'I'm mad about egg-yolk colours, cadmium yellows', Olsen said. 'Add a light cerulean blue, a touch of white, and it's the spirit of Australia: so optimistic, very juicy fruit'.1 The feeling of vivacity continues in the cheeky lines, which become flowers and other forms of life, all stimulated by the contrast and interchange between those seen in profile and those spread map-like before us. Olsen's passion for life pulsates throughout the painting, aligned to his larrikinism both as a personal and a national characteristic. The Australian landscape, Olsen once said, 'arranges itself like undisciplined graffiti - like a blue cattle dog's hind leg'.2 Undisciplined as Olsen's line and colour flows may seem, they are cunningly clever and joyously infectious.

When, in 1753, the English master William Hogarth published his Analysis of Beauty, he described the line 'that leads the eye a wanton kind of chace [sic]'.3 In the twentieth century Olsen followed suit with tendrilous strokes of the brush so lively they seem to grow across the paper or canvas. The artists shared not only a fine feeling for line, but also a like sense of humour. Their art is highly nationalistic, Hogarth with the character of the British bulldog and full of satire. Olsen is the supremely Australian painter as seen and felt in his 'You Beaut' series of paintings. When they had their debut in the early 1960s, they had such an impact that the words, so evocative, became part of our language and 'synonymous with Olsen's personality' and art.4 Likewise, his humour belongs to no other country. 'Watercolours are so sexy', he said. 'Take a pool of blue, drop in a little yellow, and slowly the two bleed into each other in a kind of marriage. It's awfully fecund; it ought to be banned, really.'5

1. Olsen, quoted in Hawley, J., 'A beautiful life', The Age Good Weekend, Melbourne, 10 December 2010, p. 30
2. Quoted in Hart, D., John Olsen, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1991, p. 207
3. Hogarth, W., and Burke, J., The Analysis of Beauty, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1955, p. 42
4. Hart, op. cit., p. 58
5. Hawley, op. cit., p. 30