Important Australian + International Fine Art
27 August 2008

James Gleeson

born 1915

oil on canvas

183.0 x 274.0 cm

signed and dated lower left: GLEESON ‘87
signed and titled on stretcher verso

$100,000 - 150,000
Sold for $120,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 5 - 27 August 2008, Melbourne

Watters Gallery, Sydney Eva Breuer Art Dealer, Sydney (label attached verso)
Private collection, Sydney


James Gleeson: Fifteen Recent Paintings, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 16 March – 9 April 1988, cat. 14 (illus.)
Paintings from Stock, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 25 July – 12 August 1999, cat. 1
Fire & Ice: Aspects of Contemporary Australian Surrealism, Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney, 24 November – 4 February 1990, cat. 2 (illus.)
Fine Australian Paintings II, Eva Breuer Art Dealer, Sydney, 1998, cat. 24 (illus.)
James Gleeson: Paintings and Works on Paper 1930s–1990s, Eva Breuer Art Dealer, Sydney, 4 – 28 May 2003, cat. 33 (illus.)
James Gleeson: Beyond the Screen of Sight, NGV Australia, Melbourne, 27 February 2004, cat. 57 (label attached verso)


Klepac, L., (with contributions by Geoffrey Smith, Ken Wach, Renee Free and Bruce James), James Gleeson: Beyond the Screen of Sight, The Beagle Press, Sydney, in association with the National Gallery of Victoria, 2005, p. 148, cat. 57 (illus.)

Catalogue text

Painter, poet, writer, curator, art historian, James Gleeson is unique in Australian art for the extraordinary range of his highly successful artistic endeavours. Widely admired as art critic for the Sydney Sun and Sun-Herald, his many books on art include William Dobell, published by Thames & Hudson in London in 1964, and Robert Klippel, by Bay Books, Sydney, in 1983. Both remain the authoritative texts on their subjects. His own book of selected poems was published by Angus & Robertson in 1993. Numerous public appointments include inaugural memberships of the Visual Art Board of the Australia Council and council of the National Gallery of Australia, together with the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation. Australian commissioner for the 1972 São Paulo Bienal, Brazil, and visiting curator of Australian art at the National Gallery of Australia, he has been honoured by prestigious exhibitions at Australia's leading art galleries, several honorary university degrees, and the AM and the AO for services to art. In 1941, he shared the Contemporary Art Society Prize with his painting, We Inhabit the Corrosive Littoral of Habit, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, and the McCaughey Prize in 1987. In addition, Gleeson is Australia's most distinguished Surrealist painter, his stature receiving rightful recognition in 2004 in the large retrospective exhibition, James Gleeson: Beyond the Screen of Sight at the National Gallery of Victoria. Invented Memories of Tomorrow, highly regarded as one of his significant works, was not only included in the exhibition, but also featured in a number of Gleeson's previous exhibitions and has been widely illustrated in associated publications.

Gleeson's more recent art has been described as 'a creation myth in paint, of the time before reason, before the Greeks. This visceral universe defies intellectual grasp.'1 Like so much of his art, the complexity of this painting, rising as it does from the unconscious world of dreams, defies reasoned translation, leaving the way open to intuition as the more certain path of approach. There is, however, that fundamental of life and nature - change. As Gleeson put it, 'one of the most important and constantly recurring motifs throughout my work is based on a sense of the mutability of all forms and substances. Metamorphosis has always been, for me, one of the basic facts of life.'2 Monumental in size and conception, Invented Memories of Tomorrow belongs to that series of large works which Gleeson began in 1983. The human figure gradually disappeared from his art, being 'metamorphosed', as Gleeson described it 'into a biomorphic cosmos.'3 Translated into landscape images, then broadened into 'cosmic experience', it is left with but a hint of its earthly origins.4 A companion painting, A Nest of Premonitions 1987, is in the collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart.

1. Free, R., James Gleeson: Images from the Shadows, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1996, p. 6
2. The artist, quoted in Free, ibid., p. 43
3. Free, op. cit., p. 43
4. The artist quoted in Free, op. cit., p. 34