Barbara HANRAHAN, Wedding night Enlarge 1 /1


Adelaide, South Australia, Australia 1939 – 1991

  • England 1963-64 and 1965-73

Wedding night 1977 Place made: Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, ink; paper screenprint, printed in colour inks, from four stencils Support: soft yellow wove paper
Manufacturer's Mark: watermark: lower left corner, illegible initials; upper left edge, 'HAND MADE'
Edition State: published state
Impression: 3/17
Edition: edition of 17

Primary Insc: Signed and dated lower right below printed image in black pencil, 'Barbara Hanrahan 1977'. Inscribed lower left below printed image in black pencil, '3/17 Wedding Night'.
Dimensions: printed image 64.0 h x 46.2 w cm sheet 80.1 h x 57.8 w cm
Acknowledgement: Gordon Darling Australasian Print Fund 1984
Accession No: NGA 84.507
  • Purchased by the Australian National Gallery, from Ray Hughes Gallery, Sydney, 1984.

Barbara Hanrahan’s subject is the uneasiness of marriage, the personal and social expectations and fantasies it produces, and the gap between these fantasies and reality. The couple, so newly united, are separated and alone in their conjugal bed, despite the decorative flowered pillows and borders. Their flesh consists of pink bricks, perhaps a symbol of the suburban house in which they seem likely to live, or of the barrier between them.

Barbara Hanrahan, printmaker and novelist, made three versions of her image Wedding night between 1964 and 1977, reusing the elements to different effect. The first is an etching printed in red and black, the second a linocut and the third variation is a colour screenprint. All three share the same simple compositional elements, an overhead view of two naked figures in a divided bed, with the title ‘Wedding night’ above and the labels ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ below them. In the 1977 screenprint, the wife’s torso is also branded with the word ‘virgin’. In this version, Hanrahan also added underwear to the figures, but she subverted the concealing quality of the underpants by the addition of bright yellow pubic hair, which frames the genitals and draws attention to the sexual activity to come.

By the late 1970s, the assumption that girls would be virgins on their wedding night had largely disappeared from Australian society. Hanrahan’s crudely outlined figures, labelled for our inspection, seem to recall a past age of conformism and sexual ignorance. The universal theme of alienation, the essential unknowability of other people, remains as valid now as then.

Christine Dixon

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