Important Australian and International Fine Art
10 May 2017


(1939 – 1992)

gouache and collage on cardboard

76.0 x 51.0 cm
artist’s frame: 195.0 x 65.0 cm

stamped with monogram lower right: BW
signed on the stretcher bar verso: Brett Whiteley

$80,000 – 120,000
Sold for $189,100 (inc. BP) in Auction 49 - 10 May 2017, Sydney

Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Private collection, United Kingdom
Christies, London, 8 December 2016, lot 9
Private collection, Sydney


Life and Death: A Visual Experience in Opposites -1983 – Brett Whiteley, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 1983, cat. 13 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)

Catalogue text

‘People ask me ‘why paint birds?’ and I look at them dumbfounded! I’ve got no answer, except that they are the most beautiful creatures…’1

Throughout his rich and varied oeuvre, birds have always held special appeal for Whiteley – both in the aesthetics of their formal appearance and metaphorically, as symbols of peace, freedom and salvation. Significantly, Whiteley’s bird paintings are also acclaimed among the finest of his prodigious career – perhaps as art critic Alan McCulloch observes, ‘because in these relatively uncontaminated domains he is motivated more by love than despair.’2 Barry Pearce has similarly hailed Whiteley ‘Australia’s most sublime painter of birds’, noting that ‘…they have appeared, often larger than life, in many of his most important paintings’3, while poet Robert Gray perceptively reflected around the time of the present work’s execution, ‘…Whiteley’s bird paintings are to me his best work. I like in the bird-shapes that clarity; that classical haptic shapeliness; that calm – those clear perfect lines of a Chinese vase. The breasts of his birds swell with the most attractive emotion in his work: it is bold, vulnerable and tender’.4

Interestingly, when Pink Dove I, 1983 was first unveiled in ‘Life and Death: A Visual Experience’ at Australian Galleries in 1983, such lyrical depictions of the bird kingdom were juxtaposed alongside Whiteley’s more tortured explorations of the Vincent Van Gogh theme. Diametrically opposed to his darker musings in their absence of angst, such depictions of birds – whether as individual studies or components of a larger composition – offered rather the promise of tranquility and happiness, ‘…an art based on the idea of extraordinary escapism, a world external from the quagmire…’5 As Sandra McGrath elucidates, Whiteley’s enduring spiritual connection with the natural world may be considered an integral part of the complex Rimbaudian duality punctuating his practice; ‘…in truth he was living out one of his constant themes – good and evil, optimism and pessimism, New York and Fiji, Christie and the London Zoo series… all meshed into one overall psychological and pictorial design, one lifelong attempt to reconcile extremes, one eternal battle to identify the truth that E.M. Forster recognised as being accessible only by experiencing opposites.’6

Celebrating nature at its most luxuriant and fecund, indeed Pink Dove I is imbued with an unmistakable sense of freedom that is the very essence of Whiteley’s art.

1. Whiteley, B., cited in Brett Whiteley: Animals and Birds, exhibition catalogue, The Brett Whiteley Studio, Sydney, 2002
2. McCulloch, A., ‘Letter from Australia’, Art International, Lugano, October 1970, pp. 69 – 70
3. Pearce, B., Australian Artists, Australian Birds, Harper Collins, Sydney, 1989, p. 144
4. Gray, R., ‘A few takes on Brett Whiteley’, Art and Australia, Sydney, vol. 24, no. 2, 1986, p. 222
5. McGrath, S., Brett Whiteley, Bay Books, Sydney, 1979, p. 94
6. ibid.


Deutscher and Hackett gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Kathie Sutherland in cataloguing this work.