Important Australian + International Fine Art
3 May 2023


(1939 - 1992)

brush and ink on paper

57.0 x 53.0 cm (sight)

signed lower left: brett whiteley
inscribed with date and title lower right: ‘chimp’ Taronga Zoo study / 14 / Nov / 78
bears artist’s stamp lower right

$40,000 – $60,000
Sold for $98,182 (inc. BP) in Auction 74 - 3 May 2023, Melbourne

Private collection
Lawsons, Sydney, 19 June 1984, lot 180 (as ‘Chimp’)
Private collection, Sydney


Sutherland, K., Brett Whiteley: Catalogue Raisonné, Schwartz Publishing, Melbourne, 2020, cat. 76.78 (addendum)

We are grateful to Kathie Sutherland for her assistance with this catalogue entry.

Catalogue text

Brett Whiteley first exhibited images of zoo animals in his 1965 exhibition at the Marlborough New London Gallery alongside his famed Christie series, a violent and disturbing body of work that investigated the murder of at least eight women in London by serial killer John Christie. Within the exhibition, the animals depicted in Whiteley’s Regent’s Park Zoo works provided welcome relief from the darkness of the Christie story, but also enabled the artist to find both release and enjoyment in the comparatively simple act of capturing animals in motion. The animals’ appearance at times behind the wires of a cage however, also made apparent the day-to-day reality of their situation, with Whiteley establishing a clear connection between their confinement and the human condition. On the title page for the screenprint portfolio, My Relationship between Screenprinting and Regents Park Zoo between June and August 1965, 1965 for example, Whiteley juxtaposed an image of a chimpanzee with a photograph of himself, each looking sideways to the other to create a sense of mirroring and equivalence. This look between the two (and the printed arrows on the forehead of each pointing to the other) powerfully conveys a sense of psychological connection and understanding.
As Sasha Grishin has commented, exploration of what Whiteley described as his ‘inner paddock’, and his ‘attempt to marry the seen with the unseen of his life’1 was a major part of the artist’s oeuvre, and depictions of the bird and animal kingdom afforded Whiteley an important way in which to achieve this. Whiteley was at the height of his powers in the year he created Chimp Taronga Zoo Study, 1978, having won the trifecta of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes, but his life was complex, and mired by addiction. Drawing was a constant companion throughout the artist’s life and the buildings, landscape and jewel-like harbour of Sydney, his hometown, an endless source of inspiration. Taronga Zoo was within walking distance of Whiteley’s home in Lavender Bay, and it is perhaps not surprising that the artist sought refuge there, in a place where he could observe countless potential subjects and work unimpeded. In this majestic study, which powerfully captures Whiteley’s extraordinary facility of line and command of the medium, the large dark eyes of the chimp convey a sense of deep connection; seeming to truly study the artist, and by extension, the viewer. In Whiteley’s skilful hands, the image is moved beyond the simple graphic depiction of an animal to a powerful and empathic portrait of an individual sentient being, with its own unique personality and character traits. As Edmund Capon, former director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales has surmised:
‘There is a sense of liberation in his art which is captured in that unequivocal delight in the experience of the moment, the indulgent sensuality and the satisfaction and fulfilment of the moment. Whiteley’s investigations have no profounder aspirations than to immortalise the experience, and this he achieved with unrelenting imagination, individuality and ultimately an immense and humane beauty.’2
1. Grishin, S. ‘Self Portraits & Other Intimacies’ in Grishin, S. et al., Baldessin / Whiteley: Parallel Visions, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2018, p. 164
2. Capon, E., ‘Foreword’ in Pearce, B. et al., W., Brett Whiteley: Art and Life, Thames & Hudson, Australia and The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2014, p. 7