John BRACK, The bathroom Enlarge 1 /1

John BRACK

East Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia 1920 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1999

The bathroom 1957 Place made: melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: Signed and dated l.r. 'John Brack 57'
Dimensions: 129.4 h x 81.2 w cm framed (overall) 141.3 h x 93.4 w x 5.1 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1998
Accession No: NGA 98.168
Image rights: © Helen Brack

Although it is surely one of the least sensuous nudes in the history of Australian art, the formal complexities and intense colour harmonies of The bathroom make it one of the most visually seductive and compelling of John Brack’s paintings. A small, angular nude stands squarely looking out at the viewer. She is little more than a dark silhouette in front of a glowing window—the focus of our attention.

Brack has carefully organised his composition based on the mathematical proportions of the golden mean, a harmonious mathematical proportion used by the Ancient Greeks. The three parallel planes that define the spatial depth of the picture—that of the frontal picture plane, the plane where the figure is located (defined by the edge of the shower screen and the top line of the tiles) and the window—all share the proportions of the golden mean. Brack’s bright yellow window is literally a golden rectangle.

Brack addressed the traditions of western art in many of his works. In The bathroom he makes specific reference to the nudes at toilette of Pierre Bonnard. Brack wryly offers us an updated version of such scenes, inside a typical suburban Australian bathroom of the 1950s.


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

Although it is surely one of the least sensuous nudes in the history of Australian art, the formal complexities and intense colour harmonies of The bathroom make it one of the most visually seductive and compelling of John Brack’s paintings. A small, angular nude stands squarely looking out at the viewer. She is little more than a dark silhouette in front of a glowing window—the focus of our attention.

Brack has carefully organised his composition based on the mathematical proportions of the golden mean, a harmonious mathematical proportion used by the Ancient Greeks. The three parallel planes that define the spatial depth of the picture—that of the frontal picture plane, the plane where the figure is located (defined by the edge of the shower screen and the top line of the tiles) and the window—all share the proportions of the golden mean. Brack’s bright yellow window is literally a golden rectangle.

Brack addressed the traditions of Western art in many of his works. In The bathroom he makes specific reference to the nudes at toilette of Pierre Bonnard. Brack wryly offers us an updated version of such scenes, inside a typical suburban Australian bathroom of the 1950s.


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

John Brack was a Melbourne artist who in his work engaged with an urban reality, one which the great majority of Australians experience in their daily life.

In 1957, Brack embarked on a series of remarkable paintings of the nude. Although each painting in the series relates to a particular artistic tradition and to a specific master – Boucher, Gauguin, Manet and so on – in each instance he subverts the tradition. The bathroom painting relates to the series of sensuous nudes by the French artist Bonnard, where the nude would frequently be located within a bathroom, illuminated from behind by a rich glowing light. In Brack’s painting we encounter an un-erotic, non-sensuous naked woman, clutching her towel, appearing slightly absurd and out of place in a suburban green-tiled bathroom. The blinding acid pinks and yellows are painful on the eye and serve to stress the conflict between an everyday reality and the imaginary world presented in art.

Sasha Grishin, 2002.


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