Important Australian + International Fine Art
1 December 2022


(1921 - 2013)

oil on canvas on board

29.0 x 39.0 cm

signed lower left: JEFFREY SMART

$70,000 – $90,000
Sold for $147,273 (inc. BP) in Auction 72 - 1 December 2022, Melbourne

Australian Galleries, Melbourne (label attached verso)
Private collection, Melbourne, acquired from the above


Jeffrey Smart, Redfern Gallery, London, 7 June – 4 July 1979, cat. 27 
Jeffrey Smart, Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney, 8 November – 30 December 1980, cat. 38 
Jeffrey Smart, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 26 October – 7 November 1981, cat. 26


Quartermaine, P., Jeffrey Smart, Gryphon Books, Melbourne, 1983, cat. 750, p. 116 
McDonald, J., Jeffrey Smart Paintings of the ’70’s and ’80’s, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1990, cat. 195, p. 159 

Catalogue text

We are grateful to Stephen Rogers, Archivist for the Estate of Jeffrey Smart, for his assistance with this catalogue entry

‘… Most artists today don’t paint the cars we travel in, factories people work in, roads, road-signs, and airports we all use. I like living in the 20th century – to me, the world has never been more beautiful. I am trying to paint the real world I live in, as beautifully as I can, with my own eye.’1
Although deriving his subject matter from all that would appear disturbing about the modern world – bleak highways, industrial landscapes inhabited by motorised traffic, and an impersonal contemporary architecture that seems unforgiving to human presence – Smart’s paintings are quite assuredly not commentaries upon urban alienation or the human condition. To the contrary, Smart rejoices in the beauty and oddity he perceives within the contemporary urban environment, translating momentary glimpses of the everyday into impeccably composed harmonies of colour, shape and line – all imbued with originality, irony and an inescapable feeling of expectancy. Elaborating upon his fascination with airports in particular, Smart observed: ‘Aerodromes are beautiful and exciting places, especially in a side light or on a misty day when they assume a threatening atmosphere.’2 As encapsulated by the superb example on offer, one of the most intriguing aspects of Smart’s airport paintings is the stark contrast between the almost total anonymity of the scenes depicted, and the inordinate specificity of their titles.3 Frequently observed by the artist through a window while seated on board a plane or in the waiting lounge, these works are invariably populated with generic images of workmen in overalls refuelling aircraft or involved in arcane systems of signalling (as featured here), control towers, airport car parks and observation decks. And yet, titles such as Fiumicino Car Park, 1976; Madras Airport, 1979; Night Stop, Bombay, 1981 and The Terrace, Madrid Airport, 1984 – 85 all suggest very precise points of departure.
Like his artistic mentor Cézanne, Smart’s priority has always been the pursuit of the consummate composition and certainly, nowhere is this commitment to disegno or draughtsmanship as the basis of his art more poignantly illustrated than in the evolution of Madras Airport. The crystallisation of a specific ‘moment of enchantment’, the final composition was preceded by at least three oil studies, including the present which documents the artist’s experiments with a reversed format and the substitution of different colours for the figures’ overalls. In the final interpretation, Smart would also omit the partially-obscured observation deck and terminal featured here, replacing it with a similarly half-concealed aircraft waiting on the tarmac to the left and garish pink oil tanker on the right. Significantly, a further figure study in oil of potential poses for the three airport workmen reveals, moreover, that Smart’s partner of forty years, Ermes de Zan, served as the model.
That much of Smart’s vast oeuvre fervently celebrates the mechanisms of travel is perhaps not surprising given his lifetime spent as an expatriate. Betraying a sense of place that is at once ambiguous yet strangely familiar, indeed such iconography ‘to some extent reflects his own inveterate travelling as a post-modern figure…’4 As eminent commentator on Smart’s work, Peter Quartermaine elucidates, ‘…For such figures, travel, whether voluntary or enforced, is counterbalanced by an inner sense of loss against which is shored what Salman Rushdie envisages as ‘imaginary homelands’…’5
1. Smart cited in Jeffrey Smart, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1999, p. 20
2. Smart cited in Capon, E., et al., Jeffrey Smart: Drawings and Studies 1942 – 2001, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 2001, p. 102
3. Grishin, S., ‘Jeffrey Smart’s Eternal Order of Light and Balance’, in Jeffrey Smart: Paintings and Studies 2002 – 2003, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 2003, p. 12
4. Quartermaine, P., ‘Imaginary Homeland: Jeffrey Smart’s Italy’, in Jeffrey Smart, 1999, ibid., p. 38
5. Ibid.