Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1893 – Provincetown, Massachusetts, United States of America 1962
c.1941 Description: five panels
Place made: United States of America
Materials & Technique: furniture, screens, oil on cardboard mounted on a wooden frame
This screen, decorated with a design of seven kangaroos, was commissioned by Mary Cecil Allen’s friend and admirer, Maie Casey, the wife of Australia’s first representative to the United States 1940–42 (Richard, later Lord Casey). The screen, which was for the dining room of the Caseys’ Washington residence, formed part of a distinctly Australian decor which included Russell Drysdale’s The rabbiter and his family.
Seven finely drafted kangaroos fill the five panels in a decorative pattern, with overlapping lines and colour highlighting some of the kangaroos’ forms. The animals are in a range of postures, with the central panel carefully chosen for the brightest colour and the engaging stare of one of the kangaroos. The free-standing concertina nature of the screen also adds to an illusion of depth and movement.
The daughter of a professor at the University of Melbourne, Cecil Allen qualified for entrance to the University in 1910 but opted instead for the National Gallery School in Melbourne. Two years later she accompanied her family to London and attended the Slade School, later returning to her National Gallery School studies in Melbourne with new ideas.
Whilst enjoying some early success as a painter, Cecil Allen also excelled as a lecturer. After a study tour of Europe in 1926, she was invited to lecture in New York and soon decided to make her home in the United States, where she lived until her death in 1962. She made several visits home, however, and created a stir with her lectures on modern art which influenced a number of the more advanced Melbourne artists.
Ron Ramsey 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