THE ALGERIAN HAT, c.1949 – 51

Important Australian + International Fine Art
27 November 2019


(1876 – 1968, New Zealand/Australian)
THE ALGERIAN HAT, c.1949 – 51

oil on board

99.0 x 72.5 cm

signed lower left: KL O’CONNOR

$60,000 – 80,000
Sold for $73,200 (inc. BP) in Auction 59 - 27 November 2019, Melbourne

Osborne Art Gallery, Adelaide
Private collection
Sotheby’s, Perth, 17 September 1990, lot 60 (as ’Algernon’s Hat’)
Private collection, Melbourne


Exhibition of Paintings by Kathleen O’Connor, Osborne Art Gallery, Adelaide, 28 April – 11 May 1965, cat. 20
Kate O’Connor, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne, November 1966, cat. 22
Kathleen O’Connor retrospective: Chasing Shadows, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 4 July – 29 September 1996 (label attached verso)


Harris, M., ‘Kate O’Connor’, Art and Australia, Ure Smith, Sydney, vol. 3, no. 4, March 1966, p. 268 (illus.)
Gooding, J., Chasing Shadows: The Art of Kathleen O’Connor, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1996, p. 65
Curtin, A., Kathleen O’Connor of Paris, Fremantle Press, Perth, 2018, pp. 210 – 11

Catalogue text

In the 1920s, a number of Australian artists, including Roy de Maistre, Adrian Feint and Margaret Preston, applied their talents to domestic design in the fields of textiles, ceramics and interiors. Kathleen O’Connor did likewise when she lived in Sydney in 1927, working for the Grace Bros. and David Jones department stores. She had commenced these activities in the early 1920s and following some years painting velvets for leading fashion houses, her ‘next activity was painting Algerian hats of native fibre, bent into every shape, and worn by the smart set at Deauville, Biarritz and even Paris’.1 It is one of these exaggeratedly tall hats which lies on its side forming the arresting backdrop in The Algerian Hat, c.1949 – 51. Its strong bands of colour suggest that this may be one of the examples hand-painted by O’Connor.

The traditional patterns of northern African textiles had featured earlier in the artist’s oeuvre in striking works such as Flowers and Oriental Carpet (Algeria), c.1928 – 29 and Colour Rhythm, c.1928 (both Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth [AGWA]). This interest had its roots in the 1925 Internationale des Arts Décoratifs Exhibition in Paris, after which ‘designers adapted the traditional geometric patterns and bold colours of North African rugs into original designs that harmonised with the clean lines of the new furniture and interior designs trends’.2 Although painted in Australia some twenty years later, The Algerian Hat indicates the strong attraction that these crafted objects retained for O’Connor as she arranged her intricate still lifes.

In December 1949, she took a studio in Fremantle and two significant paintings soon followed, The Algerian Hat, and its near-twin companion Australian Riches, c.1949 – 51 (AGWA). As O’Connor’s biographer Patrick Hutchings observed, in contrast to the softer European light of her French still lifes, these new works presented ‘a new palette and a new manner for the clear, unfiltered, often hard light of Western Australia’.3 Within a cluttered arrangement of objects – apples, cups, flowers, a cowrie shell, jug and woven hat – O’Connor explores the possibilities of modernism, particularly as presented by Paul Cézanne There are small shifts in tone and technique between Australian Riches and The Algerian Hat, and both works radiate with optimism and vitality. They are also painted with consummate skill and attention, evidence of an artist at her peak, having already exhibited successfully in London and France for the greater part of four decades.

1. ‘Miss O’Connor Interviewed in Sydney’, Daily News, Perth, 11 May 1927, p. 9
2. Gooding, J., Chasing Shadows: the art of Kathleen O’Connor, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1996, pp. 46 – 47
3. Hutchings, P. A. E., and Lewis, J., Kathleen O’Connor: artist in exile, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Western Australia, 1987, p. 234