James Gleeson

1915 - 2008


Born in 1915, James Gleeson is highly respected in the Australian art world not only as an artist, but also as an author, critic, and lecturer. Gleeson was born in Sydney and bought up by his Aunt and Mother, as he was three when his father died. His mother had a heart condition and he looked after her from 1942 until her death in 1958. Gleeson trained at East Sydney Technical College from 1934-36. He then went on to study, and later lecture, at Sydney's Teacher's College. From 1949- 1972 he was art critic for the Sun and from 1962 for the Sun Herald. Throughout his life Gleeson traveled moderately, visiting Europe, the States, South America, South Pacific and Japan.
He was President of the Contemporary Art Society, NSW, Director of the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation and appointed to the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board in 1972. Macquarie University awarded Gleeson an Honorary Doctor of Letters, and in 1990 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. In 1987 he won the McCaughey Prize with Harbinger. Gleeson's paintings are held in all State Galleries and the National Collection.

Influenced particularly by artists such as Salvador Dali, Hieronymous Bosch and van Gogh, Gleeson succeeded in becoming Australia's first and foremost surrealist artist. He invites the unconscious to appear seeking fuller self knowledge. Like many of the Surrealists, Gleeson kept paper and pen beside his bed to record his dreams and used various painting techniques including frottage, decalcomania and impasto. Gleeson's paintings during the Second World War capture the emotion and plight of humanity; The Citadel, 1945 is a counterpart to Dali's The Face of War focusing on death. These paintings "are the most significant anti-war statements by an Australian artist"^.
After the war Gleeson started the Garden paintings which often embrace mythology, although are predominantly involved with the separation of woman and man, animal and ego. He continued these paintings in London where he developed a close friendship with Robert Klippel. In these later images, the influence of European painters is seen, with Gardens of the Night, 1947, described as being "like a nightmare in Tintoretto colours"^^. The series culminated with Agony in the Garden, which summarized the major symbols of the earlier period.

Gleeson then began to explore imagery in a more literal way, with less focus on the sub conscious, producing humorous, small scale compositions before changing in scale and subject matter in the fifties. The work of this period combined surrealism with classic images, mythology and religious stories. Towards the end of the fifties Gleeson had another major confrontation with the subconscious, developing a more abstract form using in part the decalcomania technique. Like Max Ernst he began to use polythene to press into thickly applied wet paint to create an infinite type effect. However in the sixties Gleeson again painted small canvases, embracing an heroic theme in his art, "It is as though Gleeson was trying to expiate guilt by performing tasks as did the traditional Greek heroes - seeking to kill dragons and monsters to free himself."^^^

In the seventies Gleeson turned to the technique of collage and produced the Locus Solus Series taking inspiration from Roussel. The pastels from 1979-82 symbolise a wild rage at humanity deconstructing the previous idea of man as the measure of all things and linking up with his earlier thoughts of man being limited. They rage against the mythical, the biblical, and even art itself. By 1983 the artist had pushed the extreme of the figure so far that to him it had almost become unrecognizable, hence his work became more abstract as he no longer felt the need to use form at all. This resulted in his later works being mainly oil on large canvasses and is particularly pleasing, showing how Gleeson's struggle within eventually matured to a more calm, balanced depiction.

View available artworks in the stockroom here.




James Gleeson: Drawings for Paintings, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Beauty and the Beast: The Art of James Gleeson 1938-1958, University of Sydney Art Gallery, Sydney

Watters Gallery, Sydney
David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney

Pinacotheca Gallery, Melbourne

Watters Gallery, Sydney
David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney

BMG Fine Art, Adelaide
Pinacotheca Gallery, Melbourne

Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane
Pinacotheca Gallery, Melbourne
Watters Gallery, Sydney

Black Swan Gallery, Fremantle
Pinacotheca Gallery, Melbourne
David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney

Pinacotheca Gallery, Melbourne
Watters Gallery, Sydney

Watters Gallery, Sydney

1982Watters Gallery, Sydney

Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Prouds Gallery, Sydney

Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane

Macquarie Galleries, Canberra

Bonython Gallery, Adelaide

South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne

Macquarie Galleries, Sydney

Von Bertouch Galleries, Newcastle

Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane

Skinner Galleries, Perth
South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne

1950 - 1961
Macquarie Galleries, Sydney



''Surrealism in Australia'', Australian National Gallery, Canberra; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

''The Medium Pastel'', David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney
''Australian Surrealist Painting'', Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne

''The Painter Poet'', David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney

''Modern Muses: Classical Mythology in Australian Art,'' S. H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney
''Fire and Ice: Aspects of Contemporary Australian Surrealism'', Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney
''Levels of Consciousness'', David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney

''Creating Australia: 200 years of art 1788-1988'', travelling exhibition to all state galleries
''The Self Portrait'', David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney
''Pictures From The Collection'', The University of Sydney, Sydney
''Drawing in Australia from 1770s - 1980s'', Australian National Gallery, Canberra

''The Age of Collage'', Holdsworth Galleries, Sydney

''The New Romantics'', Macquarie Galleries, Sydney
''33 Male Artists'', Heide Park and Art Gallery, Melbourne
''Oz Drawing Now'', Holdsworth Contemporary Galleries, Sydney

''Modern Australian Paintings'', Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne

''Contemporary Australian Drawing'', Travelling Exhibition, Perth, Sydney, Brisbane
Joint exhibition with Robert Klippel, Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney

''Gifts from Patrick White'', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

''Australian Painting'', Tate Gallery, London

''Recent Australian Painting'', Whitechapel Gallery, London

''Exhibition of Contemporary Art in conjunction with the Olympic Games'', Melbourne
''Contemporary Australian Painters'', Pacific Loan Exhibition on board SS Orcades; Sydney, Auckland, Honolulu, Vancouver, San Francisco; then exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

''Blake Prize for Religious Art'', 2nd Prize

''110 Years of Australian Art'', Blaxland Gallery, Sydney

''Annual Exhibitions'', Contemporary Art Society, Sydney

Joint Exhibition with Robert Klippel, London Gallery, London

''Inaugural Exhibition'', Contemporary Art Society, Melbourne, June 1939
''Annual Exhibitions'', Contemporary Art Society, Sydney

''Annual Exhibitions, Teachers Federation Arts Society, Sydney

Sydney Teachers College, May Marsden's students

Achievements, Collections & Commissions


Blake Prize for religious art (2nd prize)

Awarded AM - Member of the Order of Australia

Member of the first Council of the Australian National Gallery

McCaughey Prize, National Gallery of Victoria

Degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa, Macquarie University, Sydney

Awarded AO - Officer of the Order of Australia

Degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa, University of New South Wales


James Gleeson's artworks have been included extensively in public and private collections, not limited to the following: Lapsed Shadows Recycled to a Capable Coast 1988 Art Gallery of New South Wales; The Message Arrives 1995 Art Gallery of South Australia; The Secret Heart of the Headland 1991 National Gallery of Australia; The Darkening Stage 1991 National Gallery of Victoria; The Opening Gate 1989 the Colin and Liz Laverty Collection and The Dance 1989 James Fairfax Collection. Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Bendigo Fine Art Gallery, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Heide Museum of Modern Art, La Trobe University, Macquarie University Art Collection, McClelland Regional Art Gallery, Mertz Collection, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Queensland Art Gallery, Rockhampton City Art Collection, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and The University of Sydney Art Collection.


Drury, N. and Voigt, A., ''Fire and Shadow: Spirituality in Contemporary Australian Art'', Craftsman House, Sydney, 1996
^Eagle, M. & Jones, J., ''A Story of Australian Painting'', Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 1994, p218
^^Free, Renee, ''James Gleeson: Images from the Shadows'', Craftsman House, Sydney, 1993, p28-32
Hughes, R., ''The Art of Australia'', Pelican, Melbourne, 1966
Klepac, Lou, ''James Gleeson: Landscapes out of nature'', The Beagle Press, Sydney, 1987
Kolenberg, H. and Ryan, A., ''James Gleeson: Drawings for Paintings'', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2003
McCulloch, A. & S., ''The Encyclopedia of Australian Art'', Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1994, p295
Smith, B., ''Australian Paintings 1788 - 1960'', Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1962
Smith, B., ''Place, Taste and Tradition'', Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1988
''Surrealism: Revoltion by Night by Night'', National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1993

Gleeson, J., ''Douglas Dundas Memorial Lecture'', Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1983
Gleeson, J.,'' Colonial Painters 1788-1880'', Lansdowne Press, 1971
Gleeson, J., ''Impressionist Painters 1881-1930'', Lansdowne Press, 1971
Gleeson, J., ''Masterpieces of Australian Painting'', Lansdowne Press, 1969
Gleeson, J., ''Robert Klippel'', Bay Books, 1983
Gleeson, J., 'Russell Drysdale', in ''Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly'', Vol.2 no.1, Oct 1960
Gleeson, J., ''Selected Poems'', Angus & Robertson, 1993
Gleeson, J.,'' William Dobell'', Thames & Hudson, 1964