Important Fine Art + Indigenous Art
29 November 2017


(1891 – 1974)

gouache on cardboard

73.0 x 92.5 cm

inscribed with title lower left: Lit Bateau
signed with artist’s monogram lower right: IF

$200,000 – 250,000
Sold for $237,900 (inc. BP) in Auction 52 - 29 November 2017, Melbourne

Lina Bryans Collection, Melbourne
Thence by descent
Private collection, Melbourne


Ian Fairweather, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 20 November – 2 December 1957, cat. 16
Ian Fairweather, Museum of Modern Art of Australia, Melbourne, 19 – 29 August 1958, cat. 5
Fairweather: a retrospective exhibition, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 3 June – 4 July 1965; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 21 July – 22 August 1965; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 9 September – 10 October 1965; National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 26 October – 21 November 1965; Western Australian Art Gallery, Perth, 9 December 1965 – 16 January 1966; Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, 10 February – 13 March 1966, cat. 87
Landfall: The Captain James Cook Bi-Centenary Exhibition of Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 7 April – 30 June 1970, without cat. numbers
Ian Fairweather 1891-1974, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 25 September – 6 November 1991, cat. 21 (A centenary commemoration in the Australian Art Project Gallery)
Fairweather (Retrospective), Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1 October – 27 November 1994; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 19 December – 19 February 1995; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 March – 7 May 1995, cat. 29


Bail, M., Fairweather, Murdoch Books, Sydney, revised edition 2009, pl. 82, cat. 143, pp. 104, 106 (illus.), 143, 255
Bail, M., et al., Fairweather, An Art and Australia Book, Craftsman House, Sydney in association with the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1994, pl. 29, p. 33, p. 101 (illus.)

Catalogue text



photograph by Robert Walker
© Estate of Robert Walker
courtesy of Art Gallery of New
South Wales, Sydney

Under the cover of darkness on 29 April 1952, Ian Fairweather left Darwin Harbour on a raft with the aim of sailing to Timor which, as he later told an interviewer, ‘(was) the next best thing to Bali where I had done the best painting of my life’.1 According to The Times correspondent, ‘he built a triangular raft with three old aircraft fuel tanks which he found in a dump, and the minute sail was fashioned from three panels of old parachute canopy. The raft was stocked with some tinned food, eight gallons of water, a blanket, and a change of clothing, and he set out on a trade wind.’2 Fairweather had researched the journey and studied the tides and, inspired in part by Thor Heyerdahl’s legendary Kon-Tiki expedition, calculated that he would reach his destination within ten days.3 Sixteen days later however, ‘after hallucinating, and being given up for dead, wearing only one shoe, he collapsed on the sand in the moonlight … at Roti, the last dot on the map west of Indonesian Timor’4 before the vast Indian Ocean.

Peripatetic by nature, Fairweather was an inveterate and adventurous traveller, but the raft journey was risky at best, if not outright suicidal. Interrogated in Indonesia, he made it to Timor briefly before being sent to Bali, deported to Singapore and then (as a British citizen) shipped back to London where his passport was confiscated until he repaid the cost of his fare. In mid-1953 he returned to Australia and later that year settled on Bribie Island, off the coast of Queensland, where, for the rest of his life he would live and work in a pair of thatched huts and produce the finest paintings of his career.


(born 1964)
The Gift, 2004 – 06
aluminium, wood, rope, bamboo,
synthetic polymer paint, World War
Two parachute and 
Geographic magazines
400.0 x 600.0 x 300.0 cm
© The artist
courtesy of Queensland Art
Gallery, Brisbane

Lit Bateau (The Raft at Night), 1957 is one of a group of only five works – all made in 1957 – that refer to the notorious raft journey. Both this work and Lights, Darwin Harbour, 1957 (private collection, Sydney) are nocturnal images and while the twinkling lights of the harbour describe Fairweather’s last view of the north Australian town as he sailed out to sea, Lit Bateau (The Raft at Night) is a close-up depiction of his experience on the raft, the dark night engulfing him and his flimsy vessel. The intensity of the subject, which shows Fairweather lying on the raft – his body bent in order to fit within its cramped confines – is partly disguised by the abstract nature of the image which only emerges from the layers of line, shape and solid colour after extended looking, revealing his head in the lower right section of the composition. The title is also deliberately obscure, although, as Fairweather later explained, it had literary origins: ‘I borrowed (it) from Colette. She had a bed she carried around everywhere with her and called her lit bateau – I thought it suitable for the raft as I could only lie down on it … it was so much like a bed afloat.’5Lit Bateau (The Raft at Night) was included in Fairweather’s 1957 exhibition at Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, and exhibited again the following year at the Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne. The work has a distinguished provenance, coming from the collection of Lina Bryans, a noted modern artist and close friend of Fairweather, who first acquired his work in 1934 and established what was widely regarded as the best single private collection of his art.6

1. Bail, M., Fairweather, Murdoch Books, Sydney, 2000, p. 103
2. ‘Timor Sea Crossed on Raft – Scottish Artist’s Feat’, The Times, 9 August 1952, reproduced in Bail, M., op. cit.
3. Abbott-Smith, N., Ian Fairweather: Profile of an Artist, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1978, p. 104
4. Bail, M., op. cit.
5. Fairweather to Lina Bryans, around 6 July, 1960, quoted in Bail, M., ibid., p. 104
6. See Forwood, G., Lina Bryans: Rare Modern 1909-2000, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2003, pp. 90 – 92