Important Women Artists
10 November 2021


(1875 - 1963)

oil on composition board

50.0 x 40.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: M. PRESTON / 1942

$80,000 – $120,000
Sold for $98,182 (inc. BP) in Auction 65 - 10 November 2021, Melbourne

David Jones Gallery, Sydney
Dr Lotte A Fink, Sydney, acquired from the above in 1942
Thence by descent
Private collection, Sydney
Estate of the above, Sydney 


Contemporary Art Society, Fourth Annual Exhibition, David Jones Gallery, Sydney, 8 September 1942, cat. 92
Margaret Preston, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 29 July – 23 October 2005 and touring in 2006 to; Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (label attached verso)


Edwards, D., Peel, R. and Mimmocchi, D., Margaret Preston, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005, pp. 206 (illus.), 210, 284
Margaret Preston Catalogue Raisonné of paintings, monotypes and ceramics, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005, CD-ROM compiled by Mimmocchi, D., with Edwards, D., and Peel, R., no. 1942.3

Catalogue text

Australian native pear, 1942, belongs to a suite of paintings by Margaret Preston that are amongst her most challenging. These include: The brown pot, 1940 (Art Gallery of New South Wales); Still life – Australian (or Aboriginal still life), 1940 (Queensland Art Gallery), and Aboriginal landscape, 1941 (Yale University, Connecticut), all of which incorporate a ‘subdued, simple and severe’ palette drawn from Indigenous Australian art.1 Preston truly believed that an authentically Australian art could only be attained after first understanding and respecting the connection that Indigenous art has with country. In the 1920s and 30s, Preston’s fervent advocacy ‘was not only radically ahead of her time, but involved a personal evolution for the artist.’2 Her first essay on Indigenous art was published in 1925, and her appreciation deepened during 1932-39, when she lived in the bushland adjacent to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, on Darug lands north of Sydney.3 In the early 1940s, she undertook extended journeys across northern Australia visiting galleries of rock art and paintings.

It is important to clarify, however, that no matter how passionate and sincere Preston was, she was still appropriating the source material to her own ends. This strategy fell within the legacy of European modernists’ unprecedented interest in ‘primitive’ cultures, whose art was seen as ‘synonymous with authentic experience.’4 Preston assumed, somewhat naively, that she would be able to ‘transcend cultural differences and that her values were not complicitly involved in the destruction of Aboriginal culture.’5 Conversely, her involvement as advisor to such projects as the Exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art and its application, organised by the by the Australian Museum and held at the David Jones Gallery in Sydney in 1941, demonstrated her sincere dedication to spreading a wider understanding and appreciation.

In Australian native pear, Preston has reduced her palette so dramatically that the background of table and wall are rendered solely in brown. Through this tactic, she sought to emulate the ‘above’ view of indigenous painters, as if working flat on the ground as opposed to the easel; and the flash of white to the right is the only suggestion of depth of field. Understood this way, the pear and the seed pods appear to float above an indeterminate space punctuated by ‘dot and cycle’ motifs from Central Australia.6 Preston also experimented with her own earth pigments that she had sourced in the Northern Territory, warming the yellow ochre before grinding to enrich the colour.7

1. Margaret Preston, 1945 cited in Edwards, D., ‘Margaret Preston’, Know my name, National Gallery of Australia, 2021, p. 300
2. Edwards, D., Australian Collection Focus series no. 11: Margaret Preston, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2002, p. 9
3. See Preston, M., ‘The Indigenous art of Australia’, Art in Australia, 3rd series, no. 11, March 1925, n.p.
4. Edwards, D., 2002, ibid., p. 3
5. Ann Stephen, 1980 cited in Edwards, D., Peel, R. and Mimmocchi, D., Margaret Preston, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005, p. 10
6. See ibid., p. 210. The seed pods are from either a Queensland Bottle tree or Kurrajong.
7. See ibid., p. 187