Important Australian + International Fine Art
3 May 2023


(1916 - 1981)

oil on canvas on board 

122.0 x 183.0 cm

signed lower right: G Grey Smith
bears inscription verso: KARRI FOREST / GUY GREY SMITH / No. 15
bears inscription on frame verso: KARRI FOREST GGS 

$65,000 – $85,000
Sold for $116,591 (inc. BP) in Auction 74 - 3 May 2023, Melbourne

Gallery 52, Perth
Private collection, Perth, acquired from the above in October 1979


A Festival of Perth exhibition: Paintings by Guy Grey–Smith, The Old Fire Station Gallery, Perth, 24 February – 16 March 1977, cat. 34
An exhibition of paintings, drawings and woodcuts by Guy Grey–Smith, Gallery 52, Perth, 13 September 1979 – 3 October 1979, cat. 15


Mason, M., ‘Honest, vital art show’, The West Australian, Perth, 18 September 1979 

Catalogue text

The Karri tree (Eucalyptus diversicolor) is the tallest tree in Western Australia and one of the tallest in the world. Growing exclusively in the south-west of the state, it was a tree that became emblematic for Guy Grey-Smith throughout his career. Indeed, his first painting to enter the collection of the Art Gallery of Western Australia was Karri forest, 1951, described by curator Melissa Harpley as ‘one of his first Australian landscapes where (Grey-Smith) has enough confidence in his composition to focus on the trees and eliminate external reference points.1 More than twenty-five years later, Karri forest II, c.1976 continues this scrutiny in a densely orchestrated paean to colour applied in slabs of thickened paint demarcating the trunks as they soar above the arcs and arabesques of bracken ferns below.
Grey-Smith is one of Australia’s key post-war artists, the first West Australian modernist to have a truly national profile exhibiting with the likes of Kym Bonython, Macquarie Galleries, Rudy Komon, and Ann Lewis of Gallery A. By the early seventies, the famous hospitality that he and his artist-wife Helen provided at their home in the Darling Ranges outside Perth was starting to wane as a constant stream of visitors disrupted much of their studio time. In late 1972, they took a break and drove to Pemberton in the south-west. Hearing that a house nearby was up for sale, ‘Guy went to look and decided to buy. It was one of the original timber-cutter’s cottages on a large sloping block surrounded by stands of majestic Karri trees. The sparse and simple wooden house was quite primitive but suited the two self-described “country personalities” perfectly.’They had found their refuge. The forests around Pemberton contain some of the largest Karri trees ever recorded, and unlike Guy’s childhood home of Boyup Brook, these giants grow close together and right to the edge of the roads. He discovered renewed inspiration living with the forests towering all around the town, bisected by clear-water streams, and animated by shafts of light between the leaves. It was a painter’s paradise and work after work emerged from his tiny, cluttered studio. Unlike the previous Karri paintings, Guy steps now stepped deep within the forest, where the densely-packed trunks cause dramatic shifts from shadow where the sun penetrates the canopy high above. One suite from 1974 was described by the noted curator Daniel Thomas as being ‘better than nature’s colours; they are like medieval stained glass, songs of praise by means of colour.’3 Melissa Harpley, who curated the major Survey Guy Grey-Smith: art as life at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 20144 wrote in the catalogue essay of Guy’s fluency with colour, texture and the occasional brushed gesture. His use of colour and the impasto in the paint ‘is evocative of the visual experience of moving between light and dark, so common in a thickly wooded place, and firmly makes the viewer a part of the scene.’5
Karri forest II was included in what was to become Grey-Smith’s last solo show in Perth. Newspaper art critic Murray Mason pointed to Karri forest II’s ‘interior intimacy’ advising that close inspection revealed ‘the artist’s vision and method impressively.’6  Many works from this Gallery 52 exhibition are now in noted state, university and corporate collections, and this lot’s companion Karri forest I has been part of the Janet Holmes à Court collection for decades. Similarly, Karri forest II was purchased directly from Gallery 52 by a famed Perth collection and has stayed within the family ever since.
1. Harpley, M., Guy Grey-Smith: art as life, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 2014, p.12
2. Gaynor, A., Guy Grey-Smith: life force, University of Western Australia Press, Perth, 2012, p.92
3. Thomas, D., ‘Delicacy in change’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September 1974, p.7
4. Guy Grey-Smith: art as life, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, 21 March – 14 July 2014
5. Harpley, Guy Grey-Smith: art as life, ibid., p.13
6. Mason, M., ‘Honest, vital art show’, The West Australian, Perth, 18 September 1979, p.19