Rah FIZELLE, Elizabeth Bay Enlarge 1 /1


Baw Baw, New South Wales, Australia 1891 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1964

  • Europe 1916-19, 1927-30, 1960-61

Elizabeth Bay c. 1932 Creation Notes: Fizelle returned to Australia in 1931. It is likely that the work was painted in 1931 or 1932.
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas mounted on composition board

Primary Insc: signed l.r., oil "R. Fizelle", not dated
Dimensions: 45.0 h x 38.0 w framed (overall) 58.5 h x 51.5 w x 2.6 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1971
Accession No: NGA 71.80

After a period of study and travel in Europe between 1927 and 1931 Rah Fizelle returned to Sydney where he became a teacher and advocate of modernism in Australia. From late 1932 to late 1937, alongside Grace Crowley, he ran the Crowley-Fizelle School at 215a George Street, Sydney. Through their promotion of modern art and, in particular, the principles of Cubism at this school, they influenced a number of artists in Sydney. Their evening sketch club was a meeting place for a small group of artists interested in modernism and abstraction.

Elizabeth Bay is an example of Fizelle’s ongoing interest in depicting urban life. The inner-eastern suburbs of Sydney, including Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay, were developed after the First World War and a number of tall apartment buildings were built there. These buildings, many of which are still standing today, helped to shape the urban identity of the area.

Fizelle painted this view looking out from an apartment window, or perhaps from a rooftop. He combined a number of aspects of the scene to create a meticulously balanced composition, emphasising the angular planes of rooftops, awnings and balconies. These angles are counterbalanced by the rounded forms of trees and the distant sweep of Rushcutters Bay. Fizelle simplified nature to basic geometric forms, creating relationships between cubes, spheres and prisms. While the apartments suggest dense urban living, there is an absence of people and activity in the scene which compounds a sense of stillness and silence.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra