Important Australian + International Fine Art
15 July 2020


born 1942

oil on canvas

167.0 x 243.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: Garry Shead 2000

$250,000 – 350,000
Sold for $319,091 (inc. BP) in Auction 61 - 15 July 2020, Melbourne

Australian Galleries, Sydney (labels attached verso, stock no. 26654)
Private collection, Sydney


Garry Shead. Recent Paintings, Artist and the Muse, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 9 May – 3 June 2000, cat. 1


Grishin, S., Garry Shead and the Erotic Muse, Craftsman House, Fine Art Publishing, Sydney, 2001, pl. 106, pp. 175 (illus.), 200

Catalogue text

‘[Art] is treated as if it were a science, which it is not.  Art is a form of religion, minus the Ten Commandment business, which is sociological.  Art is a form of supremely delicate awareness and atonement — meaning at-oneness, the state of being at one with the object but is the great atonement in delight, for I can never look on art save as a form of delight.’1

For Garry Shead, one of Australia’s most widely admired contemporary figurative painters, ‘the notion that art is a religion and a total commitment, is an absolute given.’2 As Sasha Grishin elucidates in his authoritative text, a persistent motif pervading both his written diaries and richly allegorical painted oeuvre, is that of being married to his art, to his Muse, with the rest of life revolving around this union; ‘…Shead is an artist who subscribes to the now unfashionable theory that the artist is a medium who surrenders to his Muse…’3 Perhaps not surprisingly, to this end Shead frequently invokes the salient precedent offered by the Old Masters, who merged their own experiences and artistic styles with timeless religious or spiritual themes to create powerful, expressive statements on their contemporary world. Indeed, British figurative painter Francis Bacon famously declared the Crucifixion ‘…a magnificent armature on which you can hang all sorts of feeling and sensation’4, and likewise, Shead similarly exploits the canon of Christian art as a means of exploring human emotions and experiences that are universal. In his celebrated ‘D.H. Lawrence’ series based upon the Englishman’s novel Kangaroo for example, compositions such as Death of Cooley; Death of Kangaroo; and The Last Supper find obvious parallels in the Christian themes of Crucifixion, Entombment and Last Supper, while the ‘Royal Suite’ depictions The Visitation; The Coronation and various entombments also unmistakably echo sacred imagery.

In the monumental religious paintings which Shead embarked upon towards the end of the millennium – of which the present Annunciation, 2000 is a magnificent example – this concept is elaborated further with the relocation of key events from Christ’s life to the artist’s coastal hometown of Bundeena, south of Sydney. Significantly, five centuries earlier, Italian Renaissance master Piero della Francesca had transported his Baptism of Christ from the banks of the Jordan to a tributary of the river Arno in his native Tuscany, while closer to home, during the forties Arthur Boyd had also tackled overtly religious themes set within the untidy foreshore scrub of Port Phillip Bay. Paying homage no doubt to such artistic predecessors in the recreation of biblical stories within a palpable localised reality, here Shead alludes to the moment when the Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ. A pivotal event in the story of the New Testament, the Annunciation signifies the actual incarnation of Christ – the moment that Jesus was conceived and the Son of God became man – hence the typical inclusion of the dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, in artistic representations. With characteristic wry humour, Shead now substitutes an Antipodean version of the sacred bird – the sulphur-crested cockatoo – while the protagonists of Mary and the angel have been replaced with two naked lovers, passionately embracing in the shallows while other bathers frolic in the water and onlookers on the shore stop in their tracks to behold the scene. One of the most important works by Shead to be offered at auction, the Annunciation encapsulates a joyful, highly personal interpretation of a traditional subject, powerful in its execution and infinite in its possibilities.

1. Lawrence, D.H., ‘Making pictures’ in Mervyn Levy(ed.), Paintings of D.H. Lawrence, London, Cory, Adams and Mackay, 1964, pp. iii-iv.
2. Grishin, S., Garry Shead and The Erotic Muse, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2001, p.166.
3. ibid.
4. Sylvester, D., Interviews with Francis Bacon, Thames and Hudson, London, 1975, p. 44