Important Australian + International Fine Art
4 May 2016


born 1936

oil on canvas

99.5 x 134.5 cm

signed lower right: William Robinson

$120,000 – 160,000
Sold for $146,400 (inc. BP) in Auction 42 - 4 May 2016, Melbourne

Ray Hughes Gallery, Brisbane
Private collection, Brisbane


Farmyard Paintings, Ray Hughes Gallery, Brisbane, 11 – 30 November 1978

Catalogue text

Robinson farmyard paintings are central to the development of his work. Not simply because they belong to a fascinating and interesting period in themselves, but because these paintings are fundamental to Robinson’s reconfiguring of the Australian landscape. Robinson’s early domestic interiors, with their backdrop of daily family life, provided glimpses of the outdoors through windows or open doors. These domestic works were painted in homage to Pierre Bonnard and allowed Robinson to hone his skills as a colourist. As Robinson’s painting developed, his attention moved out of the interior, paused for a short period on the Queensland veranda and then made its way through the garden and into Bill and Shirley’s hobby farm. Populated by cows, goats and poultry that were probably closer to family pets than anything else, the farm became Robinson’s subject.

In his own words, Robinson’s depictions give ‘… some feeling of the relationship of man to domestic animals and also the relationship that exists within the world of these animals. It reveals something of the individuality with which a farmer treats each animal. Each has a name and a personality and the picture gives a series of portraits.’1 It is interesting to consider these within the context of Robinson’s circumstances at that time. It is 1978 and the 42 year old artist is about to have his first exhibition of paintings at the Ray Hughes Gallery in Brisbane, simply titled, Farmyard Paintings. At this time Robinson was also working full time on the teaching staff at Brisbane’s Kelvin Grove Art School.

It is tempting to tease out the metaphor which plays beneath these images. Whether it is in the cut and thrust environment of the dynamic Ray Hughes Gallery or the internal politicking of the art school staff room, the notion of a pecking order or hierarchy comes to mind. The goats may be marginal observers, gallery goers or perhaps a hapless critic is amongst them. As the two roosters strut and posture vying for attention, they move amongst the hens as though crunching the numbers.

As his Archibald Prize entries over the years attest, Robinson’s feel for mixing the personal and the political is central to many of his works. For example, his 1994 entry Unanimous Self Portrait, which depicts a group of puzzled looking figures – each one a Robinson self portrait – was a response to the Art Gallery of New South Wales trustees’ inability to reach a unanimous decision when judging the prize the previous year. Earlier, in 1992, his entry has the artist in a self portrait along with his brother, Professor John Robinson who is depicted wearing his academic gown. This coded image was a retort to a critic’s observation that his previous Archibald Prize entry had not been ‘academic enough’, and so it goes.

In Robinson’s self portraits his sense of humour is strident and up front. However, in these earlier, formative farmyard paintings the artist’s mischievous sense of humour is delicately tucked beneath the playful nature of the goats and poultry which populate these delightful pictures.

1. Robinson, W., in conversation to the Gold Coast City Art Gallery, 1998, quoted in Walsh, J., ‘Goats, Cows and Chooks: The Painters Farmyard’, in Seear, L. (ed.), Darkness and Light: The Art of William Robinson, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 2001, p. 72