Smith & Singer

Charles Blackman's 1953 Schoolgirl Masterpiece for Auction

July 27, 2017

Acquired directly from the artist’s solo exhibition in Adelaide in 1953, The Pink 1953 was recently included in the comprehensive Charles Blackman: Schoolgirls exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art where, with the assistance of Sotheby’s Australia, it was fully catalogued and reproduced for the first time.  During the process another painting of a schoolgirl at Kooyong Stadium was revealed on the reverse and is reproduced for the first time by Sotheby’s Australia.

One of the most subtle and beautiful touches in The Pink – and its companion composition There Was (sold Sotheby’s Australia for $840,000 May 2012) – is the careful placement of the delicate flower in the schoolgirls’ hand.  In an overall monotone composition, this burst of pink enhances the dreamlike quality of the work.  It underscores the painting’s tone of emotional fragility, its sense of imminent collapse – or flight.

Like much of Blackman’s work, the Schoolgirl series has its origin in a synthesis of real-world experience and literary inspiration.  In the early 1950s, Charles and Barbara Blackman were living in Hawthorn, and Charles would see flocks of independent schoolgirls in uniform in the streets of the neighbourhood and when walking to his casual gardening jobs.  The imagery of everyday experience was focused, highlighted and shadowed in the artist’s imagination by the story of the Gun Alley Murder of 1921, in which a 12 year old girl was raped and strangled in a city laneway this dark occurrence echoed another, recent murder closer to home, the bashing of his wife’s university friend Betty Shanks. 

The Pink is one of the most significant images from the artist’s schoolgirl series ever offered for auction.  Blackman’s Schoolgirl paintings are sensitive, powerful explorations of childhood.  In urgent, streaky brushstrokes, in baby pinks and blues or in steely, near-monochrome grey-greens and pale ochres, Blackman’s schoolgirls dance and float and cast their long shadows across claustrophobic inner city lanes and agoraphobic emptiness.  We were thrilled to discover another painting on the verso of The Pink, a previously unknown work by the artist.  We are honoured to be entrusted with such an important work by one of Australia’s greatest living artists' said Geoffrey Smith, Chairman of Sotheby's Australia.

Works from Charles Blackman’s Schoolgirl series are held in Australia’s major public collections, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne; Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Parliament House Collection, Canberra; and TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria.

pictured above:
Verso: Charles Blackman, The Pink 1953.
© Charles Blackman. Licenced by VISCOPY Ltd, Australia

Pictured main:
Charles Blackman, The Pink 1953
© Charles Blackman. Licenced by VISCOPY Ltd, Australia


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