Port Adelaide, South Australia, Australia 1875 – Mosman, New South Wales, Australia 1963
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
Margaret Preston’s masterwork Banksia was painted in 1927, a year that encapsulates the significant intellectual and aesthetic shift that occurred in her art at this time. It is a key work from a group of radically reduced still-life paintings depicting gum blossoms and various species of banksia found throughout Australia, in this instance Banksia serrata.
Preston used the flower’s botanical structure to investigate her diverse interests in Structuralism, science, Japanese art and Australian Indigenous art to create a thoroughly modernist expression. In that same year she wrote an article, ‘What is to be our national art?’ in the student publication Undergrowth, calling for artists to embrace Indigenous and Asian cultural forms to develop a distinctive, modern expression of Australian culture.
The composition of Banksia owes much to early twentieth-century structuralist thinking, which prescribed a way of denoting reality through analysis of an object’s structure or the order of things. Preston exploits the robust structure of the flower heads, which contain thousands of individual flowers arranged in one of nature’s great rhythmic patterns, to illustrate her dedication to structuralist ideas. This is further echoed in the carefully placed black cylindrical vases free of adornment and decoration. She draws on Aboriginal art by reducing the palette and representing the subject as a carefully articulated series of geometric shapes. Space in the composition echoes Japanese printmaking, where perspective is foreshortened and voids frame the detailed rendition of the subject.
Preston’s Banksia represents one of the country’s earliest examples of Modernism and heralds an entirely new direction for Australian art.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014