Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 August 2019


(1928 – 2018)

oil on canvas on composition board

63.0 x 75.0 cm

signed lower right: BLACKMAN
bears inscription verso: 7

$150,000 – 200,000
Sold for $183,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 58 - 28 August 2019, Sydney

Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne, acquired from the above in June 1988


Charles Blackman: The Schoolgirl Years, Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne, 10 June – 2 July 1988, cat. 7 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)
Charles Blackman: Schoolgirls, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 4 March – 18 June 2017, cat. 40


Amadio, N., Charles Blackman: The Lost Domains, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Sydney, 1980, cat. 1.20, pp. 21 (illus.), 142
Morgan, K. (et. al), Charles Blackman: Schoolgirls, exhibition catalogue, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Victoria, 2017, cat. 40, pp. 4 (illus.), 70 (illus.)

Catalogue text

The paintings of schoolgirls, and numerous related drawings and prints, that Charles Blackman created between 1952 and 1954 are now regarded as one of the most significant groups of modern works produced in Australia during the immediate post-war years. When he began the series, Blackman was in his early twenties, recently arrived in Melbourne with his new wife, Barbara, and finding his feet as an artist. He later acknowledged that the imagery was, in part, an expression of youthful anxieties – ‘[they] had a lot to do with fear, I think. A lot to do with my isolation as a person and my quite paranoid fears of loneliness …’1 – but these compelling images marked a significant turning point, representing the first sustained sequence of work within his oeuvre and bringing his practice to the attention of both the critics and the broader public.2

At the time Blackman lived in Hawthorn, an inner-eastern suburb of Melbourne, and it was here that he observed uniformed girls on their way to and from school, finding a subject that was without precedent and which also had strong personal relevance. The primary impetus for the series came from his response to the murder of Betty Shanks, a university friend of Barbara’s, in Brisbane in 1952. Blackman also recalled the notorious murder of a schoolgirl at the Eastern Market in Melbourne some thirty years earlier as having had a profound effect on him and his image of childhood.3 It is the contrast between his depiction of the playful innocence of the schoolgirls and the underlying sense of menace and potential threat from an unseen source that pervades the series and through which it achieves its psychological power. Blackman knew of John Shaw Neilson’s poetry, however it was Sunday Reed who, after seeing some of the first schoolgirl paintings, introduced him to poems that seemed to Blackman to be ‘full of kinship; the sort of thing I was painting fitted in with it perfectly’.4 Setting the scene, a stanza from Neilson’s evocative Schoolgirls Hastening was reproduced in the list of works that accompanied the first exhibition of paintings from the series in 1953.

Schoolgirl, 1953, is one of a group of paintings within the series that is distinguished by the boldness of its composition and the intensity of its colour. Dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and long deep shadows, create a deliberately unsettling atmosphere. Strident colours, which Blackman later considered ‘quite unbeautiful’5, reverberate across the picture, acidic citrus tones standing in stark relief against the soft purples, blue and pink of the figure’s uniform and hat. Pictorial detail is dramatically pared back, an architectural structure marked by a series of dark open doorways the only element apart from the schoolgirl herself, whose large central form dominates the scene. Lying on the ground, legs bent and arms folded protectively across her chest, the pose of the schoolgirl prompts uneasy questions – did she fall, was she pushed, and if so, by whom? Combining aspects of his inner emotional world with a unique perspective of contemporary life, Blackman created a body of work that was deeply felt and singularly personal, and which, almost seventy years on, still has something to say about Australian culture, both past and present.

1. Blackman quoted in Shapcott, T., Charles Blackman, André Deutsch, London, 1989, p. 11
2. See Morgan, K., Charles Blackman: Schoolgirls, exhibition catalogue, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2017, pp. 7 – 8
3. See St John Moore, F., Charles Blackman: Schoolgirls and Angels, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, p. 38
4. Blackman quoted in Shapcott, op. cit.
5. Morgan, op. cit., p. 24