GLADIOLI, c.1964

Important Australian + International Fine Art
3 May 2023


(1928 - 2018)
GLADIOLI, c.1964

oil on canvas

122.0 x 102.0 cm

signed upper left: BLACKMAN
bears inscription on stretcher bar verso: “WOMAN WITH GLADIOLI” / 1964
bears inscription on partial label verso : […] dioli 48 x 40

$150,000 – $200,000
Sold for $135,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 74 - 3 May 2023, Melbourne

Skinner Galleries, Perth
Private collection, Perth
Lister Gallery, Perth
David Davies, London, acquired from the above in April 1982
The Collection of Sir David Davies, Sotheby’s, Melbourne, 5 May 2003, lot 13 (as 'Woman with Gladioli')
Private collection, Sydney


Charles Blackman, Skinner Galleries, Perth, 28 May 1974, cat. 4


Amadio, N., Charles Blackman The Lost Domains, second edition, Alpine Fine Arts Collection Ltd, New York, 1982, cat. 3.14, pp. 39, 40 (illus.), 142

Catalogue text

‘Bathed in a light that has its source in the luminous colours, these inward gazing faces full of a gentle sadness, these flowers, which often seem like souls of flowers, have a stringent poetry that lingers in the minds...’1

Fusing the beautiful with the enigmatic, Charles Blackman’s exquisitely lyrical images of women and flowers are arguably among his most widely admired achievements. Appearing in such celebrated examples such as The Presentation, 1959 (National Gallery of Victoria) and The Bouquet, 1961 (Queensland Art Gallery I Museum of Art), the trope is central to Blackman’s art, punctuating every decade of his vast oeuvre; as the artist’s biographer, Thomas Shapcott, elaborates, ‘the motif… must be seen as a long series of inventions on a theme capable of infinite variety within the form.’2 Painted sonnets capturing moments of great sensitivity and poignant beauty, indeed for Blackman, such images of girls and flowers were ‘…an eloquent form for his personal poetry’, and invariably, as Nadine Amadio adds, ‘…reflections of his wife’.3 For while no doubt betraying affinities from his haunting investigations of loneliness in his Schoolgirl series previously, as well as his iconic Alice paintings with their abundant floral blooms, Blackman’s depictions of women with flowers were most profoundly inspired by the encroaching blindness of his first wife and muse, Barbara Patterson – a writer and poet who was already legally blind when the couple married in 1951, with her condition deteriorating dramatically over the decade subsequently.

Emerging from Blackman’s fruitful London sojourn in the first half of the sixties during which he was at the height of his creative powers and critical success (see lot 9), Gladioli, c.1964 is a superb example of the artist’s remarkable ability to illuminate an inner ‘world of things sensed rather than seen.’4 Featuring his signature use of the ‘double image’ in the female profile set against an atmospheric dark ground devoid of any subject beyond its brushwork and enlivened by the brilliant colour-burst of gladioli, notably the composition engages all the senses, invoking a deeper, more intimate scrutiny. As Blackman himself reflected upon his women and flower images created during these years, ‘…what emerged was that in relation to [flowers] human beings start to do certain kinds of things… that is, the flowers evoked the people, in a certain kind of gentility, or substance, or reverence, or sensitivity.’5 In the present work, such wider sensitivity is heightened by the figure’s closed eyes – the absence of sight emphasising a greater reliance on smell (her head inclined towards the flowers recalls their perfume) and touch (the prominence of her hand speaks of their delicate textures). Meanwhile, the sombre notes of the backdrop perhaps allude to music, the fleeting transience of a nocturne with ‘…the lyrical balance of light and shade… suggest[ing] an inner listening.’6 A poetic work imbued with melancholy and tenderness, Gladioli not only encapsulates the artist’s unique intuitive response to his subjects, but offers powerful insight more specifically into the female psyche – a complex inner realm of dreams and emotions to which few others have given such eloquent expression. As Amadio elucidates, Blackman ‘…admits that what he attempts to paint is ‘virtually unpaintable’… The form of a girl’s face lit with flowers like a radiant echo of herself, is one of his best-known images, as well as one of his many powerful devices for painting the ‘unpaintable’. The floral flower shape is part of the woman; the singing colours of the flowers are the music of her psyche. They are so often held like a gift of herself. The flowers are in no sense a decoration even when they are not closely knit into the girl form; in fact the space between them and her make a bridge of emotions.’7

1. Langer, G., Courier Mail, Brisbane, 18 November 1958
2. Shapcott, T., The Art of Charles Blackman, André Deutsch, London, 1989, p. 28
3. Amadio, N., Charles Blackman: The Lost Domains, Alpine Fine Arts Collection, New York, p. 44
4. ‘The Antipodeans’, Modern Art News, Contemporary Art Society, Melbourne, vol. 1, no. 1, August 1959, p. 9
5. The artist cited in Shapcott, T., Focus on Blackman, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1967, p. 36
6. Amadio, op. cit., p. 39
7. Smith, B., ‘The Antipodeans’, Australia To-day, Melbourne, 14 October 1959, p. 104