Australia 1911 – 1992

Surrealist study 1938 Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph Support: on cardboard

Primary Insc: signed recto, l.r., pencil '- Max Dupain 38 -'
Dimensions: printed image 45.9 h x 35.5 w cm sheet 46.8 h x 35.5 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased with the assistance of James Agapitos OAM and Ray Wilson OAM 2007
Accession No: NGA 2007.949
Subject: Collection: The James Agapitos and Ray Wilson collection of Australian surrealist art, acquired, 2007. Australia, Art style: Surrealism
  • In Sydney in October 1935 the lifestyle magazine The Home published a review of American James Thrall Soby’s pioneering 1934 monograph on the Surrealist photography of American-born, Paris-based artist Man Ray. The review was written by Max Dupain, a young Sydney studio photographer who had been exhibiting impressionistic Pictorialist art photographs around 1930 but had embraced modernist geometry and design by 1933. The local art world had seen nothing like Dupain’s Surrealist images, as this review was the first response to Surrealism in Australia and the first body of work on the nude in Australian photography. A month later a portfolio of Dupain's own Surrealist images was published in the journal Art in Australia.

    Man Ray’s work was a powerful influence worldwide in stimulating experiments with Surrealist effects in the 1930s and 40s. Dramatic Hollywood lighting, dream imagery, a tinge of modern angst and arrangements of seemingly incongruous objects were signature devices. Surrealism also espoused dark erotic fantasies but a fear of female power. Dupain used all these motifs to create powerful and sensuous Surrealist images over the next five years until overtaken by the dreadful realities of the Second World War. The image here shows the eyes and face of a woman merged with the form of a broken shell, which reveals its perfect inner spiral. She is an erotic lure away from the world of rational pure form and structure. Dupain abandoned overt Surrealist tableaux after the Second World War.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
    From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014