Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 April 2009

Noel Counihan

(1913 - 1986)

oil on composition board

53.5 x 45.0 cm

signed lower left: Counihan

$28,000 - 35,000
Sold for $48,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 8 - 29 April 2009, Melbourne

David Levine Collection, Melbourne
Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne
The Hicks Family Collection, Melbourne


Spring Exhibition 1978, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 25 September – 9 October 1978, cat. 118
Realities Gallery, April 1979 Angry Penguins and Realist Painting in Melbourne in the 1940s, Hayward Gallery, London, 1988; Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 4 October – 27 November 1988, cat. 164
Angry Penguins Australian Tour, 1989, Australian National Gallery, Australian Exhibitions Touring Agency, cat. 104
The Changing Face of Melbourne 1841 – 1993, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, 1993, cat. 67


Angry Penguins and Realist Painting in Melbourne in the 1940s, Hayward Gallery, London, 1988, p. 155 (illus.)
Eagle, M., & others, A Treasury of Australian Art: from the David Levine collection, Rigby Publishers Limited, Adelaide, 1981, pp. 38 & 40 (illus.)

Catalogue text

At the beginning of the Second World War many artists sought to enlist, their talents often being directed into camouflage. Others were rejected for health reasons. One of the latter was Noel Counihan, who suffered from tuberculosis. Instead, he turned to art as a means of contributing to the war effort, 'in the interests of the preservation of our democracy, and in opposition to Fascism and Nazism... I felt that, as a citizen, quite apart from being painters' artists had some responsibility to society at such a time.'1 A master of caricature, with the helpful advice of Yosl Bergner, Counihan had begun painting in oils in 1941, producing his first truly memorable paintings in the second part of 1943. Confining himself to subjects based on actual experience, they included that poignant image of the defenceless, the sick and elderly woman, In the Waiting Room, 1943, and his recollection of experiences of the Great Depression, At the Start of the March 1932, 1944. Both are in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. A Soldier on Leave belongs to this important group. These two latter paintings share images of the family. In the former, the pregnant wife and children stand beside the father, who is about to join the march. Realist in style and compassionate in mood, in A Soldier on Leave Counihan looks at the human side of war. The returned soldier holds his babe protectively in his arms as his young son anxiously looks up to him. Husband and wife look to each other in support, the bulk of their bodies expressing solidarity in the face of uncertainty. There is no martial glory in such works, rather, one of a concern for others, exploring relationships triumphant against such odds. Motivated by a strong social conscience, Counihan's art is essentially an art of working class life drawn from his own personal experiences. In 1941 he said, 'The most important thing we have to do is to give an actual picture of the world around us.' And again, 'I don't consider it is the job of the artist to retreat from the realities of life.'2

Counihan's ongoing support for the war led to the Contemporary Art Society's Anti-Fascist Art exhibition of 1942. This was followed by his miners series, a tribute to the Wonthaggi miners' war effort. Three of his miners paintings were included in the 1945 Australia at War exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. His painting, Miners Working in Wet Conditions, 1945, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, was awarded first prize.

1. Taped interviews with Barbara Blackman, May 1988, National Library of Australia, Canberra, quoted in Smith, B., Noel Counihan: Artist and Revolutionary, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1993, p. 187
2. Farrago, Melbourne, 7 August 1941, quoted in Smith, op. cit., p. 168