Important Australian and International Fine Art
28 November 2018


(1939 – 1992)

charcoal, gouache and collage on paper

56.5 x 76.5 cm

signed lower right: brett whiteley
dated and inscribed with title lower left: Rabbit holes. Blainey [sic] 91

$60,000 – 80,000
Sold for $146,400 (inc. BP) in Auction 56 - 28 November 2018, Melbourne

Estate of the artist, Sydney
Thence by descent
Estate of Arkie Whiteley, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

‘Of all the subjects Whiteley painted in his career, landscape gave him the greatest sense of release …’1

Awarded the prestigious Wynne Prize for Australian landscape painting in 1977, 1978 and 1984, Brett Whiteley possessed a widely acclaimed talent for capturing the natural environment. As Barry Pearce elaborates, Nature offered Whiteley both inspiration and solace: ‘… if in many of his other themes Whiteley confronted the difficult questions of his psyche, landscape provided a means of escape, an unencumbered absorption into a painless, floating world’.2

Executed the year before his untimely death in 1992, Rabbit Holes, Blayney pays eloquent homage to the landscape of Whiteley’s childhood where his journey as an artist first began. Following his return to Australia in 1969 after a tumultuous decade abroad, perhaps not surprisingly Whiteley had embarked upon an artistic pilgrimage to rediscover his homeland – captivated afresh by the beauty, vastness and variety of the Australian landscape. Although famously dedicating much of his oeuvre to exploring the chromatic illusions and ‘optical ecstasy’ of Sydney Harbour’s Lavender Bay, he also frequently revisited the landscape of his boyhood in the western New South Wales towns of Oberon, Marulan, Orange, Carcoar and Bathurst. Indelibly embedded in his imagination, thus the gentle vales and hills of the countryside surrounding his boarding school in Bathurst served as not only an important impetus for his precocious endeavours, but an endless source of inspiration over the intervening years. Equally influential were the compositions of Lloyd Rees immortalising this area which Whiteley had first admired at Macquarie Galleries one day after school – landscapes deeply poetic in their contemplation of soft curves and arabesques all rendered with impeccable tonality. As he later recalled in a letter to his artistic mentor, ‘… They contained nature and ideas, they contained naturalism but seemed also very invented, and the adventure of them was that they showed the decisions and revisions that had been made while they had been painted. I had never seen anything like that before … it set me on a path of discovery that I am still on today – namely that change of pace in a painting is where the poetry begins’.3

Depicting the picturesque region of Blayney, near Millthorpe (where Whiteley’s sister, Frannie Hopkirk and her partner Bob, owned a property), Rabbit Holes, Blayney exemplifies superbly such landscapes of the West – featuring the artist’s signature calligraphic line meandering amidst a sun-parched beige ground, punctuated by the occasional hardy perennial and the witty inclusion of four rabbit holes (actually cut into the painting’s surface to create a three-dimensional sculptural effect). Affectionately described by Hopkirk as ‘… the chronologist of the golden paddocks, sensual hills and willow-strewn rivers of the Central West’4, indeed, Whiteley would frequently escape to this area during his final years to seek solace from the everyday pressures of his life, including a then-turbulent relationship with his former wife Wendy following their contentious divorce proceedings, and his ongoing struggle with addiction. Notwithstanding the artist’s obvious inner turmoil however, these final years also witnessed the culmination of recognition for Whiteley’s extraordinary artistic legacy with the artist awarded an Order of Australia in 1991, and offered a full-scale retrospective by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1992. Moreover, many today widely regard Whiteley’s late landscape works among his finest; as Barry Pearce elucidates, ‘In pure landscape genre particularly, Whiteley [now] reached the most intense level of ecstasy it seemed conceivable, and even then yearned to go beyond’.5

1. Pearce, B., Brett Whiteley: Art and Life, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1995, p. 196
2. Ibid.
3. Whiteley cited in Klepac, L., Lloyd Rees – Brett Whiteley: On the Road to Berry, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 1993, p. 7
4. Hopkirk, F., Brett Whiteley 1958 – 1989, exhibition catalogue, Orange Regional Gallery, New South Wales, 1990, p. 7
5. Pearce, B. Brett Whiteley: 9 Shades, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007, p. 7