Elise BLUMANN, Charles, morning on the Swan Enlarge 1 /1

Elise BLUMANN

Lubeck, Germany 1897 – Perth, Western Australia, Australia 1990

  • Many European countries 1920, 1924-38
  • Australia from 1938
  • Europe 1949, 1956, 1969-75

Charles, morning on the Swan 1939 Place made: Crawley, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil and crayon on canvas

Dimensions: 101.8 h x 76.8 w cm framed (overall) 1175 h x 937 w x 50 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1978
Accession No: NGA 78.630

Charles … with strong legs and thin arms … everything in nature interests you … you always try to understand: you won’t let go until you find a solution … Charles, thinker and dreamer, you constantly lively spirit.[1]

So Elise Blumann wrote of her son Charles in 1931, when he was aged seven and she and her family were living in Germany.

In 1938 Blumann migrated to Western Australia as a refugee from Nazi Germany with her husband, Dr Arnold Blumann, and their two sons. Soon after their arrival she depicted Charles, at the age of fifteen, in Charles, morning on the Swan. The location was the foreshore of the Swan River near her home in Crawley, a suburb of Perth.

The image is dominated by the vertical figure of the young man, completely self-absorbed. He is centrally placed, his feet almost touching the bottom of the image and his head near the top. He looks down at the ground, which suggests he was a thinker and dreamer, as his mother had described him eight years earlier. He is posed as if moving forward, but neither walking nor standing, balanced in a moment of stillness. Behind him, the landscape stretches out in horizontal bands, with a blue-violet sky, green-blue river and an ochre shore. The upper body is in the sky, the lower in front of the river.

Blumann painted the work using clearly visible, broad rhythmic brushstrokes, a network of hatch marks. She employed a rhythmical line to describe the contours of the body. The painting is modern in its flat, patterned surface, and with the figure pushed to the foreground plane. But it also shows Blumann’s respect for traditional art and the poses of classical sculptures of Apollo in which the figure stands poised between movement and repose.

Blumann noted that Charles was interested in observing nature and in this painting she expressed the dynamism of nature. She melded the boy into his surroundings through the overall patterned surface of paint. She contrasted the bold outlines of the boy’s figure with the repeated curves that suggest the rippling motion of the water. She wrote in her notes: ‘The sensuous awareness of beauty and harmony which enters into the constitution of all living plants and bodies … is the formal foundation of all works of art.’[2]

Anne Gray

[1] C Polizzotto, Approaching Elise, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, 1988, pp 124, 126.

[2] Elise Blumann, quoted in A Gray, ‘Elise Blumann’, Art and Australia, vol 16, no 4, June 1979, pp 369–71.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010

Charles, morning on the Swan is a sensual, seductive image of a young boy standing calmly at the edge of a river. Elise Blumann painted it with broad rhythmic brush strokes, using a limited palette in a restricted key. The youth is her son, Charles, and the location the foreshore near her home in Crawley, a suburb of Perth. She painted it soon after she arrived in Western Australia as a refugee from Nazi Germany with her husband, Dr Arnold Blumann, and their two sons. She was a mature woman who had studied in Germany, where she had been exposed to a range of European modernist painting.

Blumann was one of a number of artists who came to Australia in the 1930s to escape from the turmoil in Europe and Hitler’s ethnic cleansing. Some, like Yosl Bergner and Sali Herman, depicted scenes of life in the city streets that reminded them of Europe; Blumann, on the other hand, made images of her new landscape, imbuing it with emotional and spiritual significance.

In this painting, as in many others, Blumann expressed the dynamism of nature, melding the boy to his surroundings through her unifying expressive and rhythmic brushstrokes, contrasting the bold outlines of the boy’s figure and of the waves breaking on the shore with the overall patterned surface of paint. She gave the figure a kinaesthetic force, making the weight and tensions of the body visible, and counterbalanced this with the repeated curves that suggest the rippling motion of the water. She wrote in her notes: ‘The sensuous awareness of beauty and harmony which enters into the constitution of all living plants and bodies … is the formal foundation of all works of art.’1

Anne Gray

1Elise Blumann quoted in Anne Gray, ‘Elise Blumann’, Art and Australia, vol.16, no.4, June 1979, pp.369-71


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