Godfrey MILLER, Still life, fruit and flower (Day and night) Enlarge 1 /1

Godfrey MILLER

Wellington, New Zealand 1893 – Paddington, New South Wales, Australia 1964

  • Asia 1918-19
  • Australia 1919-29
  • England 1929-31
  • Australia 1931-33
  • England, Greece, Middle East 1933-39
  • Australia from 1939

Still life, fruit and flower (Day and night) [Day and night] c.1959 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil, pen and ink, pencil on canvas

Primary Insc: signed l.r. ink,'Godfrey Miller'. not dated
Dimensions: 40.8 h x 62.5 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1977
Accession No: NGA 77.334
Image rights: © John Henshaw Trust

Still life, fruit and flower(Day and night) presents the throbbing life-force in everyday things. It depicts still, quiet objects – a vase of flowers and a bowl of fruit – but it shows them through a shimmering prism, so that the objects appear to dissolve into the space around them – the hard edges of the vase and bowl seem to merge into the background, or into the web-like grid of the whole. We perceive the things as shapes, fragments of colour, patterns on a canvas – a flat, painted image. But so strong is our desire to make sense of what we see, that we soon begin to understand it as a world viewed through a pane of diamond glass; we translate it into a way of seeing that we know and understand.

Then, as we stand back and observe from our point of comfort, we notice that the picture is divided into two, into the warm, yellow side on the left and the colder blue side on the right. We notice the upright vase and the horizontal bowl. We see it as a contrast of sunlight and shadow, of day and night, of the active and the contemplative mind.

The artist, Godfrey Miller, played a dominant role in the Sydney art scene in the 1950s, teaching drawing at the National Art School. He portrayed simple subjects – still lifes, landscapes and the human figure – but his content was always philosophical. He was impressed by the ideas of Indian philosophy and by Wassily Kandinsky’s book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art. He painted with a geometric precision to create mosaic-like images with a pulsating sense of life, to suggest that everything in the universe coexists or interconnects.

Anne Gray


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