Clifton PUGH, A cat in a rabbit-trap Enlarge 1 /1

Clifton PUGH

Richmond, Victoria, Australia 1924 – Cottles Bridge, Victoria, Australia 1990

  • Israel 1972
  • tours to UK, Europe, China since 1970

A cat in a rabbit-trap 1957 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on composition board

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: 90.0 h x 136.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1985
Accession No: NGA 85.1752
Image rights: © the family of Clifton Pugh

In 1951, Clifton Pugh purchased a block of rugged bushland at Cottles Bridge, north-east of Melbourne, where he built a timber and mud brick house and studio. He became a key figure among the post-war generation of painters concerned with the landscape, painting close-up snapshots of the bush and its unique wildlife. In his work, Pugh expressed his respect for the environment and his criticism of the intrusive and often disastrous misdeeds of man, highlighted in his paintings of the feral cat.

The abandoned domestic cat is a particularly unwelcome intruder in the bush, a proficient and prolific hunter that wreaks devastation on small native fauna. In A cat in a rabbit-trap, the predator is now the victim. As if captured on film, the fragmented ‘frame by frame’ imagery suggests the violent struggle of the animal in a futile attempt to break free from the vice-like grip of the trap. The jawbone, in the upper-left corner of the painting, mirrors the clasping steel and alludes to the inevitable end of this struggle.

The rabbit-trap also indirectly refers to the damage caused by another introduced species, the rabbit, which at times has reached plague proportions across rural Australia. Both the feral cat and the rabbit are symptomatic of the destructive cycle of human impact on the native bush.

Steven Tonkin

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002