Works from the Donald Friend Collection
27 October 2013


(1915 - 1989)

oil on canvas on composition board

59.0 x 59.0 cm

$60,000 - 80,000
Sold for $72,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 31 - 27 October 2013, Sydney

Hughes, R., Donald Friend, Edwards and Shaw, Sydney, 1965, p. 17 (illus.)

Catalogue text

Donald Friend first visited Italy in 1949, enjoying in particular the early Renaissance art, especially the wondrous treasures offered by the city of Florence on the River Arno. Overwhelming at any time, their first sight is like a flood. As Robert Hughes said of Friend's experience: 'A young painter who has not been to Italy before arrives there; he goes, let us say, to Florence, and he is swamped. There is so much to take in, and he becomes a mass of ecstatic confusion.'1 Friend's response in paint was A Drowning Man's View of Florence, c1949, divided into sections, of rounded or pointed arches and rectangles, peopled with activities as numerous and varied as the city had to offer. Overall, it looks something like an altarpiece from that time when the International Gothic style was giving way to the early Renaissance, yet remaining entirely modern. While the banqueting table would have been a familiar Renaissance sight, an airplane flying overhead was not. Death embraces the maiden, a dog howls under a crescent moon, a centaur emerges from classical mythology, and wine is drunk. Of all the busy little vignettes, the loving embrace is the most frequent. The viewer is flooded with the images of his experience of this hot house of art and way of life, almost without rival. Perhaps, above all else, early Renaissance Florence is the unrivalled place to study the human figure - for sculpture from the hands of Donatello in bronze and marble; and in painting the tactile marvels of Masaccio. It was this young genius, who even Leonardo and Michelangelo visited at the Brancacci Chapel to see his frescoes, and draw the figure after him. Friend's drawing of the male figure gained much during his visit, seen immediately in the masterly pen, ink and wash, Youth, Death and the Maiden of 1949, and witnessed in his many splendid works thereafter. The subject of A Drowning Man's View of Florence was important to Friend for he painted a second, slightly smaller version (private collection), which was included in his retrospective exhibition held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1990. Some images are repeated; others include Bacchus the Roman god of wine, singing birds, and a fountain. The horse to the right might have stepped straight out of a painting by the Florentine Paolo Uccello, whose love of perspective rivalled even that of his wife.

1. Hughes, R., Donald Friend, Edwards and Shaw, Sydney, 1965, pp. 61-62