Important Fine Art and Aboriginal Art
30 November 2016


(1939 – 1992)

oil on canvas

91.0 x 60.5 cm

signed, dated and inscribed with title on stretcher verso: ‘Dawn’ Lavender Bay Series / Brett Whiteley 1974

$450,000 – 650,000
Sold for $549,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 46 - 30 November 2016, Sydney

Australian Galleries, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney
Deutscher ~ Menzies, Sydney, 13 June 2007, lot 31
Company collection, Sydney, acquired from the above


Brett Whiteley: Lavender Bay Series, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 19 November – 3 December 1974, cat. 24

Catalogue text

Exuding a sense of lyricism and tranquillity, Dawn, Lavender Bay Series, 1974 encapsulates well the sensuous Lavender Bay scenes for which Whiteley remains so widely acclaimed and admired. Considered the crowning achievement of his career, the series signalled a marked departure from art as a reforming medium – from politics, social consciousness and a Rimbaudian vision of life as a contest between good and evil – towards tableaux strongly inspired by Matisse and his aspirations for ‘…an art of balance, purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which might be something like a good armchair in which to relax from physical fatigue.’1

Earlier in 1974, a large and successful retrospective exhibition of his drawings at Bonython Gallery had enabled Brett and his wife Wendy to purchase the Lavender Bay house they had been renting, thus signifying Whiteley’s emotional bonding with Australia – ‘a centring, as it were, of his universe.’2 As Wendy later recalled, ‘in a sense Lavender Bay was Brett’s return to paradise, having come from a very anxious situation – and it is paradise. He said some quite tender things at the time, like ‘I’m at home at last’…’3 From this stable domestic base, and quite literally his living room window, Whiteley now turned to the Harbour for inspiration, with the brilliant ‘optical ecstasy’ of Lavender Bay – burnt orange in the midday sun, sparkling sapphire blue at twilight or drenched golden-pearl at dawn (as featured here) – providing his muse.

Seduced by this new love, the enchanting siren of Sydney Harbour, Whiteley would continue over the next two decades to explore further the theme of Lavender Bay, capturing her many moods through sumptuous interiors, harbour views and still-lifes. The result was indeed his most celebrated body of work for, within three years of embarking upon the series, Whiteley had won three of Australia’s most coveted art awards, all with Lavender Bay paintings notably executed around the same year as the present composition – the Archibald Prize for Self-Portrait in the Studio, 1976; the Sulman Prize for Interior with Time Past, 1976; and the Wynne Prize for The Jacaranda Tree, 1977.

A stunning example from this pivotal period within the artist’s oeuvre, Dawn, Lavender Bay Series poignantly evokes the poetry of the bay with its subdued impasto palette of ochre, cream and white; sensuality of line and electrifying highlights of ultramarine which Whiteley famously observed, ‘…hit my nervous system in such an exciting way.’4 Reminiscent of Chinese art in its calligraphic deftness and lack of perspectival reference, the composition reveals an observational acuity and refined minimalist sensibility that would become a hallmark of the series and as such, is closely related to bolder interpretations such as the iconic Big Orange (Sunset), also of 1974, which was originally owned by Australian Nobel Laureate writer Patrick White and subsequently donated to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Beyond any formal concerns, however, Whiteley’s abiding preoccupation with such panoramas lay in immortalising the beauty of his subject. As he mused in the introduction to the catalogue accompanying his ground-breaking show at Australian Galleries in 1974 where Dawn, Lavender Bay Series was first unveiled, these paintings ‘…begin from the premise of recording the glimpse seen at the highest point of affection – points of optical ecstasy, where romanticism and optimism overshadow any form of menace or foreboding…’5

1. Matisse cited in McGrath, S., Brett Whiteley, Bay Books, Sydney, 1992, p. 181
2. Whiteley, W., cited in Pearce, B., Brett Whiteley: Art and Life, Thames and Hudson, Sydney, 1995, p. 35
3. Ibid., p. 48
4. Whiteley, B., cited in interview with Phillip Adams, Radio 2UE, Sydney, September 1986
5. Whiteley, B., cited in McGrath, op. cit., p. 185