A Closer Look At… Pastels

Two Australian artists who were acclaimed for their pastel technique are Janet Cumbrae Stewart and Florence Rodway. We are pleased to currently have eye-catching works by each of these artists, allowing us to to Take A Closer Look At… their mastery of pastel.

Florence Rodway established a significant reputation, particularly in her favoured medium of pastel and was sought after for portrait commissions from both institutions and private clients, including Dame Nellie Melba; J. F. Archibald (her portrait being a finalist in the inaugural Archibald prize); Julian Ashton and Henry Lawson.

In Rodway’s Portrait, we are intrigued by the modern woman meeting the viewer’s gaze, in the manner of Preston’s Flapper (1925, collection of the National Gallery of Australia) and Hilda Rix Nicholas’ Une Australienne (1926, collection of the National Gallery of Australia). Rodway has presented her sitter front on and with a great degree of directness with a focus on the face, the background seeming to support and highlight the figure and at the same time, simply melt away. Her outfit transports us to another era. Rodway uses bold, broken, parallel, vigorous linear strokes and strong colour focus. There is a sense of dynamism and we feel the presence of the sitter.

Janet Cumbrae Stewart’s work comprised portraits, landscapes, and still lifes, particularly flower studies however she is most well known for depicting the female nude in pastel. These works were not driven by a narrative focus, rather the sensuous and gracefulness of the figure with a focus on colour and texture.

In The Old Shawl we see a device favoured by Cumbrae Stewart, with a shawl draped over the model’s shoulder, providing a contrast between the richly coloured material and the soft flesh tones, offset by the model’s dark hair. With her head turned to the right, allowing for a tension in the pose where the left shoulder, right elbow and the gentle profile are highlighted.

Janet Cumbrae Stewart’s artwork is today viewed through a lens acknowledging her lesbian sexual preferences, providing another layer of intimacy to her celebration of the female form.

In each of these artworks, the delicacy of the pastel medium is matched with a vigour in the strokes on the paper and pastel lends itself to capturing both luminous skin tones contrasted against bold blue and red in the Cumbrae Stewart and velvety black in the Rodway. The sketchy nature of the background in each accentuates the figure.

To Take A Closer Look At… the pastels of Florence Rodway and Janet Cumbrae Stewart please click here.

A Closer Look At… Horace Hurtle Trenerry

Despite critical rating as a first-rate off-shoot of French Impressionism (Nigel Gosling Tate review in the London Observer 27 Jan 1963) many of us are unaware of this talented artist and his unique portrayal of the Australian landscape. Although he never travelled overseas, Trenerry was aware of artists whose influence can be seen in his painting, such as Whistler and Van Gogh, and Trenerry’s work is recognised for his use of textured brushstrokes and his ability to use colour to create atmosphere. He was familiar with the ideas of modernism, particularly through artist friends, especially Kathleen Sauerbier following her studies in London in the 1920s. On her return to Australia, Sauerbier was drawn to the Fleurieu Peninsula where she crossed paths with Trenerry, who regularly captured this beautiful landscape of both pastoral and coastal appeal. Another important influence was Hans Heysen and a close observation of the Adelaide Hills can be found in Trenerry’s artworks.

To take A Closer Look At… Horace Hurtle Trenerry – read here

To view the exhibition on-line and download the illustrated essay – click here

We welcome you to the Gallery to view the paintings, on show until 10 March 2023.

290120 TRENERRY Woodside Pastoral
290120 TRENERRY Woodside Pastoral

A Closer Look At… John Dent large-scale paintings

This is the final week to view our current exhibition John Dent: Between Two Countries and we invite you to take A Closer Look At… John Dent’s larger paintings in the exhibition.

The subject matter of the larger paintings crosses a broad range: landscapes; interiors; figures; still lifes – all themes with a long tradition in the history of art. Dent takes inspiration from his own experiences, from the mundane of a Hills Hoist in the backyard of an inner city Melbourne suburb; to the more exotic, a studio in Mallorca; to the macabre, the soft colour palette of the seminal triptych, Natura Morta- Marta belies the rather uncompromising subject. Dent is able to raise elements from their everyday existence to the distinction of art, particularly highlighted in these paintings where familiar objects are lifted through their presentation on a grand scale. However the real subject matter is often the very act of painting itself, the placement of elements, of form and colour on the canvas. 

To tak A Closer Look At… John Dent’s larger-scale paintings, please click here.

Exhibition showing until Friday 25 June. Visit our website to view images, watch a video of the opening, download the catalogue and read the Closer Look At… essay.

A Closer Look At… John Dent in Paris

In our next A Closer Look At… we examine the paintings of Paris by John Dent which are redolent with atmosphere, indicative of his ability to absorb the sense of place he discovered there. Mostly, these are quiet introspective moments, a captured snapshot in time. The street scenes take the viewer on a promenade with the artist around Paris, as he explores the city. If the imagery is sometimes romantic, it is because this reflects the everyday reality of the city and these are scenes actually encountered – an arched bridge over the river; a flag hanging from a terraced building; lovers entwined in a park. Equally, Paris is a city of unexpected surprises and strange contrasts, casual witness to nuns in full habit kicking a soccer ball. At other times the subject is almost mundane, a woman with a striped apron in her window; or tinged with humour, the upright nanny on duty with her sensible umbrella shading her from the sun contrasted with the lounging figure enjoying a drink on the deckchair.

John Dent Les Bénédictines du Sacré-Coeur oil on canvas 71 x 56 cm

The significance of Paris and its art scene has been a major influence for many artists throughout history and has certainly shaped Dent’s oeuvre, evident in many aspects but essentially in the very real French atmosphere captured in these paintings. To take A Closer Look At… John Dent in Paris click here

John Dent The Nanny oil on canvas 40.5 x 35.5 cm

To view images in the exhibition; watch the video of the opening and read our Closer Look At… essays please visit our website.

A Closer Look At… John Dent Still Life Paintings

In our series of A Closer Look At… essays, we examine an aspect of current exhibited artworks. In the first of these for John Dent: Between Two Countries, we further consider the intriguing still life paintings where a range of commonplace objects are carefully placed in juxtaposition to each other and the space between them, to hint at a narrative beyond the ordinary.

These are elegant paintings, where every object has been deliberately considered and heightened by the use of texture and skilful use of colour, which is both rich yet subtle. In his opening remarks, LDFA Director Michael Blanche referred to Dent’s still paintings as “semi-abstracted displaced objects”, seeing links to artists including Giorgio Morandi; Lucio Fontana; Pierre Bonnard; Edouard Vuillard and to one of John’s key mentors, George Baldessin.

Take A Closer Look At… John Dent Still Life Paintings here, particularly, whilst the Gallery is closed due to current Victorian Covid restrictions. Images can also be viewed online and please contact us via email with any queries ausart@diggins.com.au. The exhibition has been extended to 25th June and we hope to welcome you soon (at this stage from 11 June).


Hans Heysen Morning Break 1922
Hans Heysen Morning Break 1922

“There is something immensely exhilarating when tall white gums tower into the blue heavens – the subtle quality of the edges where they meet the sky – how mysterious.”
Carrol, A., North, I., and Treganza, J., Hans Heysen Centenary Retrospective 1877 – 1977, Art Gallery Board of South Australia, 1977, p.12

This striking watercolour highlights the majesty of the Australian gum tree rising even beyond the picture plane and is typical of Heysen’s celebrated landscapes, many painted around his home in Hahndorf where his conservation efforts continue to be enjoyed at The Cedars today. Heysen had a passion for depicting such ancient trees, especially with a glow filtering through the branches, providing a contrast between light and shadow. The resting figure and quiet horses lend a calm atmosphere and give perspective to the heroic trees.

Read more about Hans Heysen and Morning Break.

A Closer Look At… the Bridges of Andrew Sayers

Included in our current exhibition Andrew Sayers: Defining the Artist is a series of gouaches created over a five year period focussing on the picturesque wooden bridges of the south coast of New South Wales. The bridges attracted Sayers as subject matter on a number of levels; from their natural appeal, to a curiosity about their structure and the opportunity to contrast elements of time and history. All painted en plein air, the works range from sunny depictions with lush vegetation and golden sands, to minimalist white posts seeming to float in the air. To take A Closer Look At… the Bridges of Andrew Sayers and read the illustrated essay, please click here.

A Closer Look At…. Andrew Sayers

The gouaches of Andrew Sayers are evocative and atmospheric, encapsulating a real sense of space and of place. Painted en plein air, they speak of the challenges of depicting the scene in front of you as it changes depending on natural conditions, such as light and weather. Sayers’s work contrasts these fleeting moments of the elements against ancient features of the land, revealing his passion for rocks, seas and skies; as well as opening a conversation between the landscape and human elements, such as bridge constructions. In his opening remarks, Doug Hall described the works as exhibiting “poise, quiet monumentalism and clarity.”

To take A Closer Look At  how Sayers ‘captured a moment’ please download the illustrated essay.

Andrew SAYERS Sky Study Haywards Beach 218136
Andrew SAYERS Sky Study Haywards Beach gouache on paper 34 x 47.2 cm 218136

Visit the exhibition page to watch a video of the exhibition opening with speech by Doug Hall AM; download the illustrated catalogue or preview the artworks – please click here.

A Closer Look At…..ZHOU Xiaoping – the art of collaboration

ZHOU Xiaoping: The Cross Cultural Influences of Chinese & Indigenous Art
3 March – 21 April 2018

ZHOU Xiaoping’s referencing of indigenous culture has come from his own experience and immersion in the Australian indigenous landscape, through his relationships with Aboriginal people, and his genuine interest in indigenous culture and art – it is a celebration of his own experiences and journeys, the friendships he has made and his desire to share his understanding of this culture with an audience through his own art.

Follow this link to read more about Xiaoping’s work and experiences, please take A Closer Look At… Zhou Xiaoping collaborations





A Closer Look At… The Next Generation

To take A Closer Look At… The Next Generation and read further about the paintings of Lorraine Kabbindi White and Genevieve Kemarr Loy, please click here.

The exhibition is showing until Thursday 28 September and please note the Gallery will be closed Friday 29 Sep – Monday 2 Oct inclusive over the AFL Grand Final weekend.

You can preview the exhibition on-line and hear the artists speak about their work and view a video of the exhibition opening with Aunty Joy Murphy AO and Nova Peris OAM – please click here.