Charles WHEELER, Apres le bal (After the ball) Enlarge 1 /1


Dunedin, New Zealand 1881 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1977

  • Australia 1892-1912
  • Europe, UK 1912-20
  • Australia from 1920
  • UK, Europe 1966

Apres le bal (After the ball) 1910 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: Signed and dated, l.l. red oil "CHARLES / WHEELER / 10" Inscribed reverse frame u.r., pencil "Apres le bal"
Dimensions: work 43.4 h x 34.7 w cm framed (overall) 640 h x 536 w x 60 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1976
Accession No: NGA 76.101

After the ball by Charles Wheeler is a self-portrait of the artist at thirty years of age. The painting is one of a pair. Its brother painting, Before the ball 1910, is more what one might expect from a portrait. It is the face of a handsome young man. He is smiling, as though he were checking his costume in the mirror or posing for a picture before a fancy dress party.

‘[N]o matter how fine as a painting’, Wheeler once said of portraiture, ‘if it is a bad likeness it is a bad portrait, as I understand that term.’[1] In After the ball, Wheeler flaunts his abilities as a painter, creating an accomplished likeness of his own face contorted in an exaggerated yawn.

Wheeler was born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1880. He began his artistic career as an apprentice lithographer, with further studies at the Working Men’s College and the National Gallery School in Melbourne. When war broke out in 1914, Wheeler was already in Europe studying painting. He enlisted and ceased artwork until the war ended.

One of Wheeler’s great champions was art critic J S MacDonald, who wrote:

His canvases give one the impression that, once decided on, he never doubted in his mind as to what their eventual appearance would be, and, that point settled, straightway set himself to embody it in a way that should technically be, as far as he could ensure it, immune from criticism.[2]

Wheeler’s paintings, however, were often criticised for their loyalty to nature, the very quality which others so admired in his work. He has been called old-fashioned, conservative, a traditionalist, and was accused of ‘passionless naturalism’ by some art critics. Well into his eighties and still painting in his Melbourne studio every day, Wheeler remarked: ‘I may be old-fashioned, but I feel there is more to painting than an ability to shriek louder and longer than the next man.’[3]

Melanie Beggs-Murray

[1] J Hetherington, ‘Charles Wheeler: window in the city’, Forty profiles, F W Cheshire, Melbourne, 1963, p 23.

[2] J S MacDonald, ‘Charles Wheeler, O.B.E., D.C.M.’ Australian painting desiderata, Lothian, Melbourne, 1958, p 76.

[3] J Hetherington, as above, 1963, p 24.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010