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Hornsby, New South Wales, Australia 1915 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 2008

  • England, Europe 1947-49
  • Europe, United States of America 1958-59

The citadel 1945 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on composition board
Primary Insc: ' J Gleeson 45 ' lower right

Dimensions: 182.5 h x 122.0 w cm framed 197.3 h x 136.8 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1972
Accession No: NGA 72.474
Subject: Australia, Art style: Surrealism


  • Painted in the final year of the Second World War, The citadel expresses James Gleeson’s revulsion at the inhumanity and horror of war. Gleeson merges the human body with landscape in a nightmarish vision of writhing entrails and orifices rising like a cliff against a high horizon. In this painting the citadel has become a devouring monster from which there is no escape: the symbol of a world in chaos.

    Born in Sydney in 1915, Gleeson studied art between 1934 and 1936. He was one of Australia’s first Surrealists, exhibiting works influenced by European artists Salvador Dalí and Giorgio de Chirico from 1939 onwards. Gleeson believed that Surrealism, which sought to liberate the subconscious mind from the dominance of reason, could be a weapon against the malaise in civilisation that had led to the rise of oppressive totalitarian regimes and the madness of war.

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