Albert TUCKER, Man's head Enlarge 1 /1

Albert TUCKER

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1914 – 1999

  • England, Europe, United States of America 1947-60

Man's head 1946 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on cotton gauze on cardboard

Primary Insc: signed and dated u.l., yellow oil "Tucker.8 '46"
Dimensions: 63.4 h x 76.0 w cm framed (overall) 753 h x 877 w x 27 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1981
Accession No: NGA 82.384
Image rights: © Barbara Tucker courtesy Barbara Tucker

Melbourne-based Albert Tucker painted many works focusing on the anxieties and fears of individuals. In his Images of modern evil 1943–47 (NGA) he depicted the sordid behaviour of servicemen on leave and prostitutes in Melbourne during the Second World War. These established him as a maker of highly expressive images of modern life.

Tucker painted Man’s head during the period he was working on his Images of modern evil, and in it he conveyed a similar distaste for the darker side of humanity. He based the portrait on a photograph published in a newspaper of a man who had been charged in court with kicking a small dog to death. The man did not know that Tucker had painted his portrait. Tucker said that he painted it because he was ‘fascinated with the utterly dissolute face of this man’ and thought he had a ‘look about him, a collapsed kind of face, a kind of moral disintegration’.[1]

This portrait is the artist’s interpretation of what the man looked like. Indeed Tucker later found the newspaper photograph and thought his portrait was really nothing like the man’s face, that he had ‘extracted the corrupt disintegrating element in it’.[2] Tucker exaggerated distinctive features to suggest the man’s character and mood: the asymmetric head, the furrowed brow, dark hollow staring eyes, crooked nose and swollen lips make the man appear zombie-like. The unkempt shirt collar on the man’s short neck makes him appear dissolute. The yellowish-blue tinge to the skin, the dark shadow over the left (sinister) side of his face and the flashes of red in his hair, set against the green-blue background, add to this impression of moral disintegration. What is more, Tucker applied the paint thickly, and used the agitated brushstrokes to assist in evoking the physical presence of a brutal man.

In painting this portrait Tucker realised that it was not the actual individual that fascinated him; rather he was interested in depicting what he thought to be a type, a symbol. Tucker saw in this man a ‘kind of refracting prism for the human condition’, ‘a social-psychological landscape’.[3]

Anne Gray

[1] A Tucker, quoted in J Mollison and N Bonham, Albert Tucker, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1982, p 42.

[2] Mollison and Bonham, as above.

[3] Mollison and Bonham, as above.


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

This was painted from a newspaper photograph of a man who had been charged in court with kicking a small dog to death. And I remember I was fascinated with the utterly dissolute face of this man … he had that look about him, a collapsed kind of face, a kind of moral disintegration. And I realised it wasn’t so much the person that was fascinating me – rather, he stood as a symbol for all sorts of things that work in the human condition. I remember once I located the photograph again and it’s really nothing like it … I found that I’d extracted the corrupt disintegrating element in it. The face fascinated me because it was a key into a social-psychological landscape. A kind of refracting prism for the human condition. I saw it more as a psycho – in fact, I think I called them Psycho Landscapes at one stage.

Albert Tucker, 19821

1 Albert Tucker, in conversation with James Mollison and Nicholas Bonham in James Mollison and Nicholas Bonham, Albert Tucker, Melbourne: Macmillan, 1982, p.42.


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