tea party with dog


Adelaide Art Gallery – really the ‘Art Gallery of South Australia’.  Tired, ratty and querulous, I prowl its incomprehensible galleries, searching for a way out.  No Exit.  Signage is non-existent and the floor-plan misleading.  Bouncing off the dead-ends, recoiling from the Turner exhibition, returning again and again to the truly upsetting flayed horse, I crave outside air, natural light, a loo.    The ‘sculpture courtyard’ has two sculptures – three if you count a low pocked concrete wall about a metre high, that forms a rough triangle around dry grass.  Drier and more beaten than the watered lawn outside it,  it looks neglected.  I’m starting to turn against sculpture courtyards.  But in the end there really is a cafe – and a gift shop: refreshment.

Amongst the slightly tedious assemblage of early Australian art, breathing darkly of a more decorous age, huge Hans Heysens glow with commanding reality.  They are wonderful – the reproductions in books give only the faintest sense of their effect.  I hear Heysen’s name in my mother’s voice: she is a big fan.  How is it that the greats are always astonishing in their greatness, no matter how much we would like to discover that others are just as good?

There are some lovely discoveries, though.  I haven’t heard of Clarice Beckett before: a Melbourne artist of soft light, tenderly captured.  Her works feel remarkably modern – they reach out and illuminate the heavy walls.  This one is called ‘Morning Shadows’.

Morning Shadows

Morning Shadows


The most intriguing moment comes when I see E. Phillips Fox’s ‘Alfresco’ – at first I mistake it for another Beckett – but it is older, and comes out of that altogether more narrative approach of the late nineteenth century.  It is concerned with light, yes, but also (and entertainingly) with composition.

"Tea Party with Dog"

“Tea Party with Dog”

Within a drift of light pastel shades, the central lady in the red dress attracts our attention, so that she and the dark-clad man seem to be the focus of the picture.  His dark suit ebbs away into the dark-and-white dress of the servant, whose back is turned.  At the same time, the intense black splash of colour that is the little spaniel is the more sharply focussed part of the picture.  Invisible to the chatting couple, two people on the edges of the group are engaged in feeding the little dog illicit tit-bits.  This action draws our gaze away from the centre, towards the periphery; away from the male-and-female couple’s interaction towards the animal – from speech to the senses.  One could take this further and think about a contrast between formality and subversion, but perhaps it makes most sense to go along with the witty insertion of distraction as a topic, and to note that the lady in the important hat may not be as important to this picture as she thinks.  Fox even offers us the servant’s detachment as a hint that we too can detach ourselves from the centre and indulge ourselves in a secret little game with the dog .

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2 Responses to “tea party with dog”

  1. valkyrie1 Says:

    You go very nicely from tired, ratty and querulous to lucid and appreciative. 🙂 Thank you for “Tea Party with Dog”. And next time you’re in Canberra, I’m definitely dragging you to the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery – it’s full of trees and sculptures and has a pond.

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