Important Australian + International Fine Art
3 May 2023


(1925 - 2006)

synthetic polymer paint on canvas

120.0 x 91.0 cm

signed lower right: Coburn
signed, dated and inscribed with title verso: “SONG OF INDIA” / JOHN COBURN / SYDNEY 1974

$30,000 – $40,000
Sold for $82,841 (inc. BP) in Auction 74 - 3 May 2023, Melbourne

Kandiah Kamalesvaran AM (Kamahl), Sydney, acquired directly from the artist
Private collection, New South Wales
Deutscher and Hackett, Sydney, 10 May 2017, lot 55
Private collection, Queensland


Rozen, A., The Art of John Coburn, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1979, pl. 51, p. 85 (illus., dated as 1975)
Amadio, N., John Coburn Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1988, p. 199 (dated as 1975)

Catalogue text

‘John Coburn’s style is unique in Australian art and his contribution is one of inestimable worth. How does one value or rate in terms of dollars the art of a man whose vision elevates us to spiritual consciousness?’1
Unlike his contemporaries for whom abstraction represented the glorification of geometry and colour, John Coburn’s works are seldom purely cerebral or devoid of emotion. To the contrary, suffused with an overwhelming sense of celebration and allegory, his deeply personal iconography is predicated upon the promise of renewal – whether it be the regeneration of nature or the resurrection of the human spirit. Betraying strong affinities with the work of Matisse, Rothko, Picasso and Miró, his remarkable oeuvre encompassing paintings, prints and tapestries is thus which he reveals and exalts through the most direct of images. Indeed, highlighting the profound spiritual significance of his art, Nadine Amadio suggests Coburn as a pilgrim, ‘…his signs and symbols speak[ing] eloquently of a man who has been prepared to make a journey and return with the gifts of his insight.’2

When Coburn embarked upon the exquisite Song of India, 1974 offered here, he was universally regarded by public and private collectors alike as being at the height of his artistic career. Two years earlier, he had been appointed Head of Sydney’s National Art School; his spectacular colourful abstract curtains of the ‘Moon and Sun’ had just been unveiled at the newly-opened Sydney Opera House; and the Australian Government had presented his ‘Creation Series’ of tapestries to the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, Washington. In 1973, his considerable international standing as a religious artist was augmented by the commissioning of the painting Tree of Life III, 1973, by the Vatican Museum’s Gallery of Contemporary Religious Art, while closer to home, other works from this richly fertile period found their way into major state and corporate art collections, including Valencia, 1973 (Queensland Art Gallery / Museum of Modern Art, Brisbane); Aubusson Green, 1973 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) and Garden in Vevey, 1973 which was acquired by the BHP Collection.

Saturated with emotion and joyfulness, Song of India offers a dynamic, harmonious composition in which the artist’s signature biomorphic forms float and colours pulsate with a vitalistic energy against a seductive red ground. Hot hues of celebration and the earth radiate passion, alongside resonant blues and purples, while cool neutrals (white, black and grey) provide visual anchors within this feast of colour, all evoking the rich, exotic splendour of India. Without doubt, the composition embodies Coburn at his finest, arresting in its simplicity and compelling in its ability to explore the profound and intuitive. As Coburn observed of his commitment to the allegorical and sensory potential of his art, ‘Appearances are distracting. What you feel about a thing is important, not what it looks like. I don’t want to teach people to see. I want to get them to feel.’3
1. Strzynecki, P., ‘Beyond Psalm 46’ in John Coburn, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 2000, p.8
2. Amadio, N., John Coburn: The Paintings, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1988, p. 10
3. The artist, cited in Klepac, L., John Coburn: The Spirit of Colour, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2003, p. 33