Australia 1887 – 1935
Sandringham, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on board
Clarice Beckett, like the visual arts equivalent of a haiku master, was able to distil the essence of her subjects with a minimum of means. Silent approach is a particularly fine example of the strength and delicacy of Beckett’s approach in which no mark is wasted. While the painting exudes a pervasive stillness, the green vegetation in the foreground appears to have a vitality of its own, extending out to the shadowy figure. This fluid organic form is balanced by the vertical power pole (with echoes of the form receding into the distance), a classic Beckett subject indicating modernity. The interplay between structure and softness gives way on the left to the foggy atmosphere in which space itself is the dominant aspect.
A magical aspect of Silent approach is that, for all the restraint of Beckett’s palette, subtle tonalities and subject matter, it is full of presence and imbued with an inner life. In 1919, Beckett moved with her parents to the bayside suburb of Beaumaris, an environment that provided her with evocative inspiration. Despite many challenges, she was driven to paint every day and in all weathers. She also exhibited regularly. While each work is self-sufficient, she felt considerable pleasure in seeing the cumulative effects of her paintings shown together—each illuminating the other.
Beckett’s interest in a tonal approach was informed by Max Meldrum, an influential teacher in Melbourne who espoused a theory of Tonalism. Meldrum considered her his star pupil and, before long, her independent vision shone through—a fact that he acknowledged in a tribute to her at a memorial exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1936. Tragically, she died far too early, at the age of forty-seven, from pneumonia after catching a chill while painting in inclement weather.
After Beckett’s death, a large number of her paintings were left to deteriorate in a barn and were unsalvageable. Thanks to the great generosity of a number of donors, the Gallery has been able to add Silent approach, one of her most accomplished remaining works, to the national collection.
Deborah Hart, Senior Curator of Australian Painting and Sculpture post 1920
in artonview, issue 80, Summer 2014