TP 174A UNTITLED, c.1963

Important Australian + International Fine Art
3 May 2023


(1921 - 1973)
TP 174A UNTITLED, c.1963

synthetic polymer paint on composition board

122.0 x 91.5 cm

$60,000 – $80,000
Sold for $98,182 (inc. BP) in Auction 74 - 3 May 2023, Melbourne

Estate of the artist, Sydney
Watters Gallery, Sydney (labels attached verso)
Private collection, Sydney, acquired from the above in 2006 


Tony Tuckson, Paintings, Pinacotheca, Melbourne, 18 October – 4 November 1989, cat. 10 (illus. in exhibition catalogue, dated as c.1962 – 1965)
Tony Tuckson. Important Paintings, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 23 August ­– 16 September 2006, cat. 10 (illus. in exhibition catalogue, dated as c.1963) 

Catalogue text

When Tony Tuckson held his first commercial exhibition at Watters Gallery, Sydney, in 1970 at the age of 49, it was to reveal an astonishing original painter, one who stamped an immediate and lasting mark on modern Australian art.

At the time Untitled, 1963 was painted, very few knew of Tuckson’s work. His was a career happening in the shadow of strident division between abstraction and figuration. The Sydney 9 group formed in 1960 and all were abstractionists and included Robert Klippel and Clement Meadmore amongst others. It was an immediate response to Melbourne’s Antipodeans and their exhibition – all seven artists were figurative. Robert Hughes championed the former; Bernard Smith the latter.1 By 1960, John Passmore’s paintings had evolved into abstraction, and Peter Upward painted his wildly energetic June celebration in 1960. Ian Fairweather had painted abstract works in the late 50s and Monastery was finally completed in 1961 –  the same year John Olsen painted You Beaut Country No. 2. Contemporaneous accounts reveal Tuckson is missing amongst all the action.
Tuckson’s place in art history’s canon of great abstractionists is one written in hindsight, where respected critical reaction frequently places him as Australia’s finest abstract expressionist. Prolific weekend and evening studio activity were kept at arm’s length from his position as deputy director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. However, his self-imposed studio isolation didn’t restrict his worldliness and the reach of his curiosity. Tuckson had studied art in his native England (he was born in Egypt), flew Spitfires in WWII and was sent to Darwin in 1942; at the end of the war he enrolled at East Sydney Technical College. As Deputy Director, he developed a keen and conversant interest in Aboriginal and Melanesian art, something not shared by uninterested gallery trustees, but it informed his own art.

Tuckson’s distinctive figurative work was shaped by European modernism, especially the School of Paris, and Picasso and Matisse in particular. He also reveals an indebtedness to Ian Fairweather, both in terms of the arrangement of elements within compositions and an easy-going disregard for the quality of materials themselves. By the end of the 50s, figuration had been abandoned and the expressive potential of abstraction became a tour de force

While American Abstract Expressionism can be regarded as a pivotal underpinning of his approach to painting and drawing, Aboriginal and Melanesian art also shaped his essential aesthetic and stylistic repertoire.2 Tuckson looked at, thought about and absorbed art that interested him. Viewers won’t find revelatory moments of identifying a source and then the application of an assumed influence. His discursive interests become rather a sophisticated part of his intellectual character, discrete elements within his unrestrained intuition and expressive exuberance. 

Between 1961 and 1965 Tuckson worked on red, black and white paintings. Untitled suggests nothing beyond the gestures themselves in their orchestrated, well-practiced and seemingly haphazard characteristic. But the various marks, incidents and painterly sweeps all converge into an experiential whole, where no part of the painting might exist without its interconnected counterpoint.3 If Tuckson produced no further work after these formative abstractions, his reputation would be undiminished. But he continued to paint ambitiously, often larger in scale, until his premature death in 1973.

1. Antipodeans, Victorian Artists’ Society Galleries, East Melbourne; 4 – 15 August 1959 (The Antipodean Manifesto written by Bernard Smith)
2. Mendelssohn, J., Passion and Beauty: the paintings of Tony Tuckson; The Conversation, 28 November 2018 at The author suggests the exhibition 8 American Artists, organised by the Seattle Art Museum and shown in Sydney in 1958, had a profound effect on Tuckson, especially the work of Markey Tobey.
3. Mimmocchi, D., et al., Tony Tuckson, Art Gallery New South Wales, Sydney, 2018.