Russell DRYSDALE, The rabbiter and his family Enlarge 1 /1


Bognor Regis, England 1912 – Westmead, New South Wales, Australia 1981

  • Australia from 1923
  • England/France 1938-39
  • England 1950-51, 1957 and 1976

The rabbiter and his family 1938 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: signed and dated l.l., oil "R Drysdale 1938"
Dimensions: 61.5 h x 76.7 w cm Frame 75.5 h x 90.5 w x 7.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1980
Accession No: NGA 80.1084
Image rights: © Estate of Russell Drysdale

Russell Drysdale was a painter of people, of their lives in small country towns and outback places. In The rabbiter and his family he created a tableau of modern life: a happy worker with his family grouped together in a brightly coloured field of flowers, looking directly at the viewer as in an olden-days family photograph. The man stands assertively with one finger in his belt, with his son posed in similar fashion, suggesting that he will follow in his father’s footsteps. Likewise, the two small girls have hair and dresses styled after their mother’s, but in recognition of their youthful freedom they, like their brother, have bare feet. In contrast to heroic 19th-century scenes of the Australian pioneer forging a new relationship with the land, this is an image of the unheroic worker, comfortable in his environment.

The rabbiter and his family is one of Drysdale’s early works, painted soon after he completed his studies with George Bell. During this time, Drysdale assimilated elements of the work of other contemporary artists. He adopted aspects of the naïve-looking approach of the British artist Christopher Wood and Picasso’s restrained haunting images of circus families. Drysdale also looked closely at Modigliani – simplifying the faces and elongating the figures – although Drysdale’s faces have a more whimsical expression than Modigliani’s melancholic ones.

With a characteristically Australian laconic manner Drysdale recorded some of the humorous aspects of everyday life – the pompoms on the woman’s slippers, and the dog scratching itself. He created an image that presents typically Australian characters and poses. They look at us with a sense of comfort and familiarity and we feel as if we know them, or people like them. 

Anne Gray

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