Ralph BALSON, Constructive painting Enlarge 1 /1

Ralph BALSON

Bothenhampton, Dorset, England 1890 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1964

  • Australia from 1913
  • Great Britain, France, United States of America 1960-61

Constructive painting [Constructive painting 1951] 1951 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on composition board

Primary Insc: signed and dated l.r., pencil (incised) "R Balson 51"
Dimensions: 60.5 h x 90.5 w cm framed (overall) 64.1 h x 93.9 w x 2.1 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1977
Accession No: NGA 77.517
Image rights: © Ralph Balson Estate.

Constructive painting is one of the most subtle of Ralph Balson’s geometric abstract paintings. It shows his mastery of tonal values to achieve the appearance of luminous and transparent forms floating gently in a shallow space. The sparing use of vivid orange and blue serve as visual punctuation marks, bringing the viewer’s attention back to the picture plane and stabilising the composition.

Constructive painting expresses a calm and ordered aesthetic. Each element is held in a harmonious balance, reflecting Balson’s belief in the purpose of art to reveal absolute and timeless truths.

Balson was one of the first artists in Australia to devote himself solely to the pursuit of abstraction. Influenced by the work of artists such as Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky (which he knew only through books and reproductions), and by the theories of the French Cubist Albert Gleizes, by 1940 Balson, together with his artistic collaborator Grace Crowley, had made the leap into pure abstraction.


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

Constructive painting is one of the most subtle of Ralph Balson’s geometric abstract paintings. It shows his mastery of tonal values to achieve the appearance of luminous and transparent forms floating gently in a shallow space. The sparing use of vivid orange and blue serve as visual punctuation marks, bringing the viewer’s attention back to the picture plane and stabilising the composition.

Constructive painting expresses a calm and ordered aesthetic. Each element is held in a harmonious balance, reflecting Balson’s belief in the purpose of art to reveal absolute and timeless truths.

Balson was one of the first artists in Australia to devote himself solely to the pursuit of abstraction. Influenced by the work of artists such as Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky (which he knew only through books and reproductions), and by the theories of the French Cubist Albert Gleizes, by 1940 Balson, together with his artistic collaborator Grace Crowley, had made the leap into pure abstraction.


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

Constructive painting shows Balson’s exquisite use of colour and mastery of subtle tonal values to achieve the appearance of luminous and transparent forms floating gently in a shallow space. Balson’s sparing use of vivid orange and blue serves as a visual punctuation mark, bringing the viewer’s attention back to the picture plane and stabilising the composition. Constructive painting expresses an aesthetic of calm and order, reflecting his belief in art’s purpose: to reveal absolute and timeless truths.

In his ‘Constructive Paintings’ series, painted between 1940 and 1956, Balson pursued an idealised art based on a universal language of geometry, which rejected particulars of time and place and the artist’s own subjective vision. Balson considered that the purposes of science and art were essentially similar, both seeking to discover inherent and fundamental laws of nature. In 1949, he was reported as stating that ‘the source of true design is to be found in cosmic laws and that this truth offers a better basis for progress than any other.’1

In 1956, with the beginning of his ‘Non-Objective Paintings’ series, the serene geometry and stable order he expressed in the ‘Constructive Paintings’ would give way to a more fractured abstraction, images of universal flux, reflecting Balson’s new understanding of the physical world according to Einstein’s concept of relativity.

Painted in Sydney in 1951, Constructive painting contrasts with other Australian art of the time which tended towards romantic realism, heroic landscapes and nationalistic myth-making. One of the few artists who responded to Balson’s work was the young sculptor Robert Klippel, who had recently returned from study in London and Paris. In 1952, Balson invited Klippel to share an exhibition with him. It is likely that Constructive painting was included in this show as it belonged to Klippel until acquired by the National Gallery in 1977.

Elena Taylor

1Herbert Badham, A Study of Australian Art, Sydney: Currawong Publishing Co., 1949, p.146.


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