Important Australian + International Fine Art
24 April 2024


(1939 - 1992)

ink on paper

90.5 x 56.0 cm

signed lower right: brett whiteley
dated and inscribed lower left: Preliminary for 'River at Carcoar' 16/4/77
stamped lower right with artist's monogram

$60,000 – $80,000

Private collection, Brisbane, acquired directly from the artist c.1977
Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 8 September 2004, lot 6
Private collection, Melbourne and Sydney, acquired from the above


Sutherland, K., Brett Whiteley: Catalogue Raisonné, Schwartz Publishing, Melbourne, 2020, cat. 101.77, vol. 7, p. 405

Catalogue text

'Across Brett Whiteley’s stellar career, the landscape served as both a conceptual and very real escape from the realities of daily existence, the expectations of the art world and ever-growing success, and the largely self-created pressures he came to experience in a life fuelled by creativity and addiction. From bases in London, and later, in New York and Australia, travel throughout Europe and Africa, and extended periods in Fiji and Bali, relaxed the artist’s body and mind and charged the imagination, providing material that would populate his oeuvre for years to come. While places like Sydney’s Lavender Bay – which became the subject of some of artist’s most well-known and highly celebrated works after the Whiteleys moved there in 1970 – are clearly recognisable, more often than not the landscape is an abstracted, generalised place; an amalgam of the artist’s diverse experiences in and connection to nature'.1 For Whiteley, the natural world and the act of making were deeply entwined: ‘Don’t just interpret nature, become its rival. Try and operatively work in the manner that rivals nature so that you do challenge God… There is sometimes that supernatural, superhuman sort of feeling when you’re creating that you are causing a world… From something that didn’t exist – here, this thing does exist.’2

Painted around the same time as he was awarded the prestigious Wynne Prize for landscape painting twice in two consecutive years3, Preliminary for ‘River at Carcoar’, 1977 offers a superb example of the pen and wash sketches, that Whiteley routinely completed – often en plein air – in preparation for many of his universally acclaimed pastoral paintings from this period, including Summer at Carcoar, 1977 (Newcastle Art Gallery); Paddock – Late Afternoon, 1979 (private collection), painted at nearby Oberon; and the magnificent The Wren, 1978 offered in this auction (lot 6). Like such masterpieces, the present similarly features the artist’s signature mesmerising, sinuous river meandering through the centre of the composition, flanked by burgeoning weeping willows and intermittent strewn granite boulders, with the sensuous, rounded curves of the mountains beyond. In his untiring efforts to depict this landscape in all its myriad seasons and moods, Whiteley recognised in such works a tendency which he described as ‘Chinese’, not only in his use of the calligraphic medium reminiscent of the Asian art he so admired, but more fundamentally perhaps, in the repetition of certain motifs to symbolise states of mind. The arabesques of rivers echoed the flight paths of birds, which in turn mirrored the artist’s relaxed journey through his own domain; as Sandra McGrath observed of the oil painting based upon the same composition, ‘The River at Carcoar borders on the surreal, having none of the convincing details to suggest that this is not a river of his own mental landscape.’4

1. Gellatly, K., essay for lot 42, Brett Whiteley, The Olgas, 8am, 1985, in catalogue accompanying Deutscher and Hackett, Important Australian + International Fine Art, Melbourne, 16 August 2023, p. 146
2. Brett Whiteley, cited in Featherstone, D., Difficult pleasure: a film about Brett Whiteley, Film Finance Corporation Australia Limited, 1989
3. Whiteley won the Wynne Prize for Landscape painting three times: in 1977 with The Jacaranda Tree (On Sydney Harbour); in 1978 with Summer at Carcoar; and in 1984 with The South Coast After Rain.
4. McGrath, S., Brett Whiteley, Bay Books, Sydney, 1979, p. 210