Albert TUCKER, Sydney Fox Enlarge 1 /1


Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1914 – 1999

  • England, Europe, United States of America 1947-60

Sydney Fox 1946 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on cotton gauze on cardboard

Primary Insc: signed and dated u.l., grey oil "Tucker 1946"
Dimensions: 63.8 h x 76.0 w cm framed (overall) 768 h x 890 w x 55 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1981
Accession No: NGA 82.2312
Image rights: © Barbara Tucker courtesy Barbara Tucker

What manner of man gazes from the hooded, deeply shadowed, inset eyes and face illuminated by a single, concentrated light-source just outside the frame? There is something not quite ‘right’ about him despite the schoolboy neatness of his appearance. There is a weakness in him that pulls you back from embracing and identifying with the man. The sharply lit almost jagged white collar around his neck lends a further sense of disquiet. After taking this in, what remains for the viewer is an almost mesmeric flicker between the staring eye and shadowed drooping eye—back and forth, back and forth.

Tucker’s deliberate and expert paintwork is rich and expressive. His exploration of the subject is forensic, controlled and relentless; the facial features finely sculpted.

There is fascination in the artist’s method, though he studies from a distance, projecting himself into the mind and circumstance of Sydney Fox. Nothing in the work distracts the viewer from the subject—the space is shallow, the background plain, the palette tonal and subdued, the light strong and dramatic.

Intent and intense, Albert Tucker in the 1940s was an artist confronted by the psychology of madness and the moral outrage of war. He spent six months in the military (1941–42) and said of his commanding officer:

He was probably the only military commander who had a respect for artists … He also knew that he was sending off these batches of troops in many cases to be killed … Again this curious omnipotent finger … put me in a position in the hospital where I was able to be a witness to the effects of war on people.[1]

At the Heidelberg Military Hospital, Tucker observed men in psychiatric wards struggling with the brutality and human carnage that accompanies war—fractured minds seared with images that made no sense and allowed no peace. Tucker’s experience feeds into portraits like Sydney Fox, each a ‘social-psychological landscape’ to be investigated.

What manner of man was Sydney Fox? A psychopath who at the age of thirty-one was the last man hanged in Maidstone Prison in Kent, for murdering his mother.

Belinda Cotton

[1] Interview with Albert Tucker by James Mollison, in Albert Tucker: a retrospective, National Gallery of  Victoria, Melbourne, 1990, pp 9–10.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010