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Australian Art
Abstraction: Spirit and Place gallery

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Great Britain 1891 – Australia 1974

  • Movements: travelled in the Asia-Pacific region from 1928
  • based in Australia from 1943

Monastery 1961 Bribie Island, Queensland, Australia
paintings, synthetic polymer paint and gouache on cardboard mounted on composition board
Technique: synthetic polymer paint and gouache on cardboard mounted on composition board
Primary Insc: signed l.r, gouache, monogram "IF" not dated
144.5 h x 185.5 w cm
Purchased 1976
Accession No: NGA 76.93


  • By the time that Ian Fairweather undertook his painting Monastery, he was recognised as a considerable artistic talent in Australia. While the work may appear abstract, Fairweather never wanted to lose the subject entirely, always aiming to include a human dimension in his art. Close observation of Monastery reveals a layered paint surface, a searching calligraphic line and an immensely subtle tonal range enlivened by touches of golden yellow. The way Fairweather combines these elements suggests the quiet contemplative mood of a monastic environment.

    On the one hand, Monastery may be considered a recollection of an experience many years before when the artist stayed briefly at a monastery near Beijing. He described it to his early biographer Nourma Abbott-Smith as a place of spirituality. He recalled that the snow outside covered the monastery while the inside was illuminated by hundreds of candlewicks floating in golden bowls, casting flickering shadows and softening the carved aspect of the statues. In a broader sense, as Murray Bail noted in his later book on the artist, Monastery also represents all monasteries, all contemplative silences and so summarises this serious artist’s obsessions.

    The strength of the work was quickly recognised when it was first shown at Macquarie Galleries in Sydney. Clearly Fairweather himself had been pleased with the results. Alongside his monogrammed initials he has written in Chinese ‘auspicious’ or ‘lucky day’.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008