Important Australian + International Fine Art
14 September 2022


(1939 - 1992)

charcoal on paper

65.0 x 94.0 cm

signed lower right: brett whiteley
bears artist’s studio stamp lower right

$50,000 – $70,000
Sold for $104,318 (inc. BP) in Auction 71 - 14 September 2022, Sydney

Australian Galleries, Melbourne
Private collection, acquired from the above in May 1990
Australian Galleries, Melbourne (label attached verso)
Private collection, Melbourne, acquired from the above in April 1994 (label attached verso)
Thence by descent
Private collection, Melbourne


Brett Whiteley: Recent Paintings, Drawings, Photographs, Ceramics and Wood Carvings from Byron Bay, Marrakech, Japan, San Gimignano – Tuscany, Australian Galleries, Sydney, 1 – 26 March 1990, cat. 29


‘Whiteley at his most spectacular’, Business Review Weekly, 2 March 1990, pp. 114 – 115 (illus.)
Sutherland, K., Brett Whiteley: Catalogue Raisonné, Schwartz Publishing, Melbourne, 2020, cat. 25.89, vol. 7, p. 722

Catalogue text

A celebration of the female nude is one of the most persistent themes within the Whiteley oeuvre, from the semi-abstract bathroom nudes of 1960s London, through to languorous and often explicit scenes from the final years of the artist’s helter-skelter life. Spencil I, 1989 is a furtive glimpse of a reclining nude. This sweeping charcoal drawing shows only the lower half of a young woman, delighting in and emphasising the curvaceous landscape of her haunches and upturned legs. Despite the anonymising effect of the close cropping of this nude, Spencil I is not an idealised paragon from the Her and Towards Sculpture series of Brett Whiteley’s late work. It is a tender and intimate portrait of Janice Spencer, the artist’s young girlfriend, identifiable by her curly mane and the title Whiteley chose for this drawing. Affectionately nicknamed ‘Spencil’, Spencer was a model and addiction mentor who Whiteley had met at a local Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Sydney in the late 1980s, during a difficult period of estrangement and separation from his wife Wendy. 

Spencer quickly became Brett’s companion, appearing by his side in the society pages and travelling with him to the United States, Bali, Tokyo and Kyoto and Paris. For two years, between 1987 and 1989, with her help, Whiteley strove to maintain his sobriety, and painted feverishly. Many of these works featured his new muse, her lithe swimmer’s body and mass of unruly curls rendered in sultry inky portraits, bold charcoal strokes and even in the vast erotic painting, Sunday Afternoon, Surry Hills (which was included in the 1989 Wynne Prize, to much consternation). Bearing a similar composition to a Parisian work, Girlfriend Reading Baudelaire, here the nude is evoked with minimal sweeping strokes and bold tonal modulations. Some superimposed lines follow the shape of her legs in a couple of different poses, giving the impression of a restless idleness and a hastily finished portrait. Like in Sunday Afternoon and Girlfriend Reading Baudelaire, Spencer’s identity is thinly-veiled and her face obscured from view. With a languid and confident gesture, Whiteley’s master draftsmanship is apparent. As Barry Pearce noted, the artist ‘draws with the naturalness of a bird singing’1, and this classic reclining nude is a moment of pure and sober sensuality. Taking a pause from his pursuit of the elusive ‘uncut gem’ of the ‘Great Nude’2, Whiteley had chosen to live in the moment, rejoicing instead in the beauty that his eye beheld. 

1. Pearce, B., cited in ‘Brett Whiteley. The Art of the Warrior’, Good Weekend, Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 17 February 1990, p. 18 
2. Whiteley, B., ‘Recent Nudes’, exhibition catalogue, Artist’s Studio, Sydney, 1981, n.p.