Croydon, New South Wales, Australia 1902 – Avalon, New South Wales, Australia 1989
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, egg tempera on canvas on board
During the 1920s and 1930s, a number of Australian artists such as Arthur Murch, Rayner Hoff, Dorothy Thornhill and Napier Waller wanted to link their art with the European tradition, and merged classical forms with Australian scenes. Their work celebrated the healthy body and idyllic Australian way of life.
The calf demonstrates the painterly technique that was to become Arthur Murch’s mature style. He created his paintings by applying paint in small, directional brushstrokes and used a limited, yet luminous, palette.
Murch’s style was built upon his early academic training and the influence of the old master and modern artists, whose work he had seen when touring through Europe from 1925–27 as a beneficiary of the Society of Artists Travelling Scholarship. On returning to Australia, he assisted George Lambert with sculptural commissions and worked to resolve and refine his own painting style. The calf was painted during this period and in it Murch clearly exploited some of the compositional devices utilised by artists of the Renaissance. He used the fence and verandah to distort perspective, both flattening and tilting the picture plane. This positions the figures as separate studies within a triangular composition, with the ‘Madonna and child’ at the apex. The frozen gestures and mannered poses of the figures in The calf are visual references to the religious works of masters of 13th-century Italy. Far from being a divine figure, however, her sturdy legs and the basket of produce on her arm bind this modern Australian Madonna to the earth. The children and the calf, hen and flowers are included not as religious but as secular symbols in a modern allegory of a youthful, plentiful nation.
Lee Kinsella, 2002.
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