Important Women Artists
10 November 2021


(1911 - 1946)

oil on composition board

79.0 x 64.0 cm

signed lower right: Eric Wilson
signed and inscribed with title verso: Eric Wilson / A Street in Paris

$40,000 – $60,000
Sold for $104,318 (inc. BP) in Auction 65 - 10 November 2021, Melbourne

Sir Keith Murdoch, Cruden Farm, Victoria
Thence by descent
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Cruden Farm, Victoria
Thence by descent
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

Hailed by Douglas Dundas as ‘one of the bright stars in the firmament of Australian art during the 1940s’1, Eric Wilson is remarkable for having achieved widespread success both as an abstractionist whose still-lifes represented some of the first experiments in cubism by an Antipodean artist, and equally, as a modern realist painter of European cityscapes, impressively exemplified here by A Street in Paris, c. 1942.

Awarded the New South Wales Travelling Art Scholarship in 1937, Wilson accordingly embarked for England, studying first briefly at the Royal Academy before enrolling at the more progressive Westminster School under British modern painters, Mark Gertler and Elmslie Owen. The latter was particularly influential, encouraging the young artist to proceed in the vein of the French avant-garde ‘according to knowledge rather than mere vision’2, and recommending that Wilson pursue his cubist explorations further at Amedée Ozenfant’s Academy, Earl’s Court. In the early months of 1939, Wilson departed London for the Continent where he travelled and sketched in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, absorbing, among other things, that sense of rounded volumetric form so revered in the work of Italian Quattrocentro primitives such as Piero della Francesca. Above all, however, it was the city of Paris that inspired Wilson most – ‘not the large-scale vistas of the master-planned metropolis… but the more intimate curves and corners of narrow streets, and tree-lined quays of the Seine’3 – and thus, he spent hours capturing en plein air the picturesque streets and bridges in drawings which would later provide the basis for his celebrated series of Paris landscapes undertaken upon return to Australia following the outbreak of war.

Bearing unmistakable affinities with the artist’s two versions of Rue de l’Hotel de Ville, Paris, c.1942 (formerly in the collections of D. R. Sheumack and Mr and Mrs R. C. Crebbin respectively), the present work encapsulates superbly Wilson’s earlier explorations of the Paris theme which are distinguished by an underlying sense of construction and careful attention to composition and architectural form. By contrast, as Wilson’s experience of Europe grew more distant in time, his works evidenced a much looser attitude to form and a greater preoccupation with impressionistic effects of light and colour – leading one critic in 1947 to disparagingly remark upon the ‘heavy cookery’4 of his later landscapes, citing their use of thick impasto and absence of formal definition. Nevertheless, universal among all Wilson’s European cityscapes including A Street in Paris, is a pervading sense of isolation, of the artist as outsider; a feeling perhaps derived from the impending war which had precipitated his trip in the first place, and which no doubt prevented him from stepping outside the role of tourist. The invariably wet and chilly streets are disconcertingly empty as is the case here, or when peopled, such figures remain oblivious of the artist, continuing the closed activities of their daily lives. In this respect, Wilson’s perspective contrasts starkly with that of his artistic peer, William Dobell, with whom he lived and studied in London. Where Dobell found the inhabitants of a city such as Paris or London much more intriguing and typical than their surroundings, Wilson concentrates rather upon the streetscapes and buildings, discerning in the architecture the unique character he was seeking.

1. Dundas, D., ‘Eric Wilson’, Art in Australia, vol. 12, no. 1, July – September 1974, p. 48
2. Diary of the artist, 2 June 1938 cited in Sayers, A., ‘Introduction’, Eric Wilson, exhibition catalogue, Newcastle Regional Art Gallery, Newcastle, 1983, p. 9
3. Dundas, op. cit., p. 56
4. Sydney Morning Herald, 28 May 1947