© Cleared / image missing

James CANT

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1911 – Adelaide, South Australia, Australia 1982

  • England, Europe 1934-39
  • England 1949-55

Objects in a landscape 1936 Place made: London, Greater London, England
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil paint; canvas oil paint Support: canvas

Primary Insc: signed and dated lower left in oil paint, 'Cant / 1936'.
Dimensions: 121.8 h x 96.5 w cm Framed 1450 h x 1240 w x 80 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1995
Accession No: NGA 95.1011

James Cant was powerfully influenced by dreamlike Surrealism, which came to prominence in British art circles with the great International Surrealist exhibition in London in 1936—the year Cant joined the British Surrealist group. An important aspect of these artists’ approach was to delve into their subconscious minds, using odd juxtapositions and ‘automatic’ creative processes.

Objects in a landscape is a theatrical work. The kinetic elements, setting and style of the work demonstrate Cant’s debt to the radical art of the day and to that of Spanish artist Joan Miró in particular. The tethered balloon is a reference to Miró, as are the flat areas of colour and defined forms scattered over a schematised landscape. Cant’s choice of colours reinforces the strangeness of the subject: acid pinks are contained within dark grey and black, against a background of lavender greys. The objects and shadows are anchored by a rich dark-brown earth, which contributes to the atmosphere of brooding desolation.

The dramatic lighting and the strange, dream-like objects that appear to have become animate, testing the laws of balance and gravity, combine to make Objects in a landscape a classic example of Surrealist art.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

James Cant was powerfully influenced by dreamlike Surrealism, which came to prominence in British art circles with the great International Surrealist exhibition in London in 1936—the year Cant joined the British Surrealist Group. An important aspect of these artists’ approach was to delve into their subconscious minds, using odd juxtapositions and ‘automatic’ creative processes.

Objects in a landscape is a theatrical work. The kinetic elements, setting and style of the work demonstrate Cant’s debt to the radical art of the day and to that of Spanish artist Joan Miró in particular. The tethered balloon is a reference to Miró, as are the flat areas of colour and defined forms scattered over a schematised landscape. Cant’s choice of colours reinforces the strangeness of the subject: acid pinks are contained within dark grey and black, against a background of lavender greys. The objects and shadows are anchored by a rich dark-brown earth, which contributes to the atmosphere of brooding desolation.

The dramatic lighting and the strange, dreamlike objects that appear to have become animate, testing the laws of balance and gravity, combine to make Objects in a landscape a classic example of Surrealist art.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014

After briefly attending several art schools in Sydney, James Cant went to London in 1934, where he stayed until the outbreak of war six years later. In 1935, the expatriate Australian painter Roy de Maistre introduced him to art dealer Fred Mayor, whose gallery showed works by such avant-garde artists as Ernst, Miró and Picasso. Cant was powerfully influenced by Surrealism, which came to prominence in British art circles with the great International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936, the year Cant joined the British Surrealist Group. This artists tried to delve into their subconscious minds, using odd juxtapositions and ‘automatic’ creative processes.

The kinetic elements, setting and style of Objects in a landscape demonstrate Cant’s debt to the radical art of the day, and that of Miró in particular. The tethered balloon is a reference to Miró, as are the flat areas of colour and defined forms scattered over a schematised landscape. Cant’s choice of colours reinforces the strangeness of the subject: acid pinks are contained within dark grey and black confines, against a background of lavender greys. The objects and shadows are anchored by a rich dark brown earth, which adds to the atmosphere of brooding desolation.

The shapes derived from dry bone and driftwood, the spliced string anchoring a lifebuoy shape and the concept of the image as a series of objects conforming to the laws of gravity and balance, indicate the influence of pure British Surrealism.1

Objects in a landscape is a theatrical work, a stage where human and natural detritus play out their own drama of connection and disconnection.

Christine Dixon

1Adapted from Mary Eagle, National Gallery of Australia Acquisition Submission, 1995.


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