Important Australian + International Fine Art
27 August 2014


(1921 - 2013)

oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas

85.0 x 115.0 cm

signed lower left: JEFFREY SMART

$700,000 - 900,000
Sold for $1,260,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 36 - 27 August 2014, Sydney

Australian Galleries, Melbourne (label attached verso)
Private collection, Melbourne, acquired from the above in 1986


Jeffrey Smart, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 21 April – 12 May 1986, cat. 3
Jeffrey Smart Retrospective, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 August – 31 October 1999; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 26 November 1999 – 6 February 2000; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 10 March – 21 May 2000; Museum of Modern Art at Heide, Melbourne, 10 June – 6 August 2000, cat. 69 (label attached verso) 
Jeffrey Smart: The Question of Portraiture, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Victoria, 4 March – 13 April 2009, cat. 27
Master of Stillness: Jeffrey Smart Paintings 1940–2011, Samstag Museum of Art and Carrick Hill, Adelaide, 12 October – 14 December 2012; TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria, 21 December 2012 – 31 March 2013, cat. 58


McDonald, J., Jeffrey Smart: Paintings of the '70s and '80s, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1990, p. 161, cat. 301 (illus. pl. 40, p. 135) 
Capon, E., Jeffrey Smart Retrospective, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1999, p. 211, cat. 69 (illus. pp. 9 (detail), 167) 
Smart, J., Capon, C., and Greer, G., Jeffrey Smart Drawings and Studies 1942–2001, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 2001, p. 126 (illus.) 
Pearce, B., Jeffrey Smart, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2005, pp. 184–185 (illus.) 
James, R., Jeffrey Smart: The Question of Portraiture, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Victoria, 2009, pp. 13–14, 23, cat. 27 (illus. p. 14 and front cover) 
Pearce, B., Master of Stillness: Jeffrey Smart Paintings 1940–2011, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2012, two frontispieces (details), pp. 17, 132, cat. 58 (illus. p. 94) 
Allen, C., 'A Shifting Canvas', Review, Weekend Australian, 5–6 July 2014, p. 3 (illus.) 

Catalogue text

For Jeffrey Smart, portraits are uncommon and self portraits are rare. There is an early oil from 1940, Self Portrait, 1964-65 exhibited in a survey exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1966, Self Portrait at Papini's 1984-85, and another smaller work of 1993 (collection of The University of Queensland, Brisbane). In 1980 he painted Portrait of David Malouf (collection of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth), and Germaine Greer four years later. Then came Portrait of Clive James, 1991-92 (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney), although here the figure played the more customary Smart role of providing scale within the picture.

Although Smart was a traditionalist working in a heightened realist style, he was well aware of what was happening in the art of his day, affirmed by this picture, undoubtedly his greatest self portrait and in many ways his 'signature work'. Without the palette and brush, he takes on the image of the everyman and employs the background to comment on contemporary art through references to the colour field, hard edge, and the textured. In the study drawing, the figure is to the left, and to the right the doors of squared format are small and insignificant. In the finished painting these same doors have been transformed into a colour field painting of repeated geometric forms that would have done a Dale Hickey proud. They do in fact hint at a Hickey painting in the National Gallery of Victoria - Untitled, 1967-68, acquired through the Felton Bequest in 1968. Yet, Smart's doors have the fascination and integrity of a painting in its own right, complete with the enigmatic touch of being locked. Colourful plastic crates to the left and blue door continue the fascination with colour, an added touch of Pop Art.

While Smart's paintings are immaculately composed and presented, they do not reveal themselves readily. It is both part of the artist's intention and their idiosyncratic attraction, particularly so with this present self portrait. In his notes to the study drawing (see Related Work), Smart typically wrote about the setting, not the self. 'Papini was the owner of the petrol service station at Pieve a Presciano, a village in Tuscany. Behind the pumps is the workshop, the doors of which feature in the self portrait, along with Coca Cola crates which furnished some notes of pure colour.'1

And again of a 2001 self portrait in charcoal and pastel Smart commented, 'My studio is not really geared for painting a self portrait and this involved a lot of easel moving and mirror arranging.'2 Perhaps there is a whiff of 'smoke and mirrors' here - avoidance of explanation and associated with the illusionism of magic, so often a part of Smart's game plan. For portraits and self portraits it has long been traditional to include references to the subject's interests or profession. The admiral has his ship, the general his army, and artists their tools of trade. Recall Rembrandt or Goya with brushes and palettes in their hands.3 Smart was not immune to this, as seen in his pun, Margaret Olley in the Louvre Museum, 1994-95 (Art Gallery of New South Wales). While the implication is that Olley is represented in the great art museum, his notes refer to Olley within the painting as being an 'eye-catcher'.4

In Self Portrait at Papini's Smart's look is direct. Intriguing shadows are cast, the face moulded by nature's light and shade, references to the lights and darks of his personality, and of life itself. This is extended in another oil, Self Portrait, 1993, which John McDonald described as 'a lucid and straightforward likeness, without the private jokes and gamesmanship found in portraits of friends such as Clive James, David Malouf or Margaret Olley.'5  In a highly perceptive essay, McDonald continued - '... Smart's best paintings are as ambiguous as dreams. They are infinitely suggestive, but confirm nothing.'6 Sometimes dreams do come true, as in our self portrait where consummate composition and colour speak so eloquently of the artist's interests and provide testimony of status. In a Vincent van Gogh self portrait, every brush stroke pulsates with inner passion. For Smart they are cool and considered. This is Smart's finest portrait and one of his most widely exhibited and reproduced works.

1. Smart, J., Capon, C., and Greer, G., Jeffrey Smart Drawings and Studies 1942-2001, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 2001, p. 126
2. Ibid., p. 175
3. See Rembrandt's Self Portrait at the Easel, 1660, Louvre, Paris; Goya's Self Portrait in the Studio, 1785, Accademia San Fernando, Madrid
4. Smart, Capon, and Greer, op. cit., p. 161
5. McDonald, J., 'Jeffrey Smart', Jeffrey Smart Recent Paintings, Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 2001, p. 3
6. Ibid., p. 5