Brett Whiteley
Untitled (Heron, rain and wind) 1973
oil and mixed media on board
82 x 85.5 cm
no. 8781a
Brett Whiteley
Garden in the Sanur, Bali 1980
screenprint with offset lithograph 84/100
60 x 80 cm
no. 13319
Brett Whiteley
Lindfield Gardens 1978
colour screenprint in 2 colours with offset lithography
79 x 115 cm
no. 13302
Brett Whiteley
The Divided Unity 1974
colour screenprint 66/70
66.5 x 94 cm
no. 13206
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Mother and child 1977
etching 32/60
60.5 x 45 cm
no. 7059
Brett Whiteley
Woman under the shower 1976
etching 51/100
40 x 48.5 cm
no. 12473
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Woman in bath 1979
ink on paper
65 x 50 cm
no. 12590
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Towards sculpture 8 1977
lithograph 32/50
87 x 62 cm
no. 11550
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Magpie 1977
sugarlift aquatint 20/60
50.5 x 50 cm
no. 7812
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
The Luxembourg Gardens (glimpse) 1989
pen and ink on paper
55.5 x 75 cm
no. 11042
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Towards sculpture 7 1977
lithograph 41/50
82.7 x 60.9 cm
no. 11214
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
View on the garden 1977
lithograph
67.5 x 57.5 cm
no. 6635
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Flowers on the table 1977
lithograph
76.5 x 57.5 cm
no. 4511
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Moreton Bay fig 1979
etching
60 x 49.5 cm
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Towards sculpture 3 1977
lithograph 32/50
90 x 63 cm
no. 11549
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Towards sculpture 5 1977
lithograph 27/50
82.5 x 56 cm
no. 9458
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Palm tree II 1975
screenprint 12/50
81.5 x 60 cm
no. 5754
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Untitled (nude) 1985
charcoal ink and wash on paper
175 x 150 cm
no. 9228
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Bird on a branch 1977
sugarlift aquatint 1/60
43 x 75 cm
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Sydney Harbour Bridge 1977
etching 43/60
60 x 44.5 cm
no. 7310
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Blue nude 8
ink on paper
24 x 33 cm
no. 7793
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
The robin and the moon 1981
oil on canvas
87 x 87 cm
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Monkey 1979
etching 40/50
24.5 x 20 cm
SOLD
Brett Whiteley
Platypus c. 1970
charcoal and mixed media on paper
74.5 x 54 cm
no. 4174a
SOLD

Brett Whiteley (1939 - 1992)

An inspired and innovative genius, Brett Whiteley harboured a prodigious talent from which were born some of the most iconic images of twentieth century Australian art. Whiteley's rocket-like projection to stardom gained its explosive force from Bryan Robertson's inclusion of the young artist's work in his now legendary exhibition, 'Recent Australian Painting' at London's Whitechapel Gallery in 1961. Whiteley had arrived in London in 1960 following a sojourn in Italy on an Italian Government Travelling Art Scholarship administered by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and joined the high profile group of older expatriate Australian artists including Boyd and Nolan who had been wowing London collectors since the early 1950s. The response to Whiteley's startlingly sophisticated canvases was enormous, with the Tate Gallery and its associated Contemporary Art Society purchasing both works available for sale; Red Painting and White Painting, making the 22-year-old Whiteley the youngest artist ever to be acquired by the gallery. As Bryan Robertson explains Whiteley's 'arrival on the European scene in 1961 was dazzling; never had youthful  precocity seemed so disconcertingly substantial, deep and alert in its light, its texture, its fabric, its spirituality' 1. The Whitechapel show catapulted both the artist and his art into the spotlight and set Whiteley on to a trajectory which would see him gain almost cult-like status in Australia in the 1970s and ultimately establish him as one of the most important figures in Australian art history.  

Whiteley's body of work encompasses a wide range of media and subjects including landscapes, interiors and still-lifes, figure paintings, nudes and animals. His versatility astonished the Art Gallery of New South Wales Trustees in 1978 when he became the first and only artist to win all three of the Art Gallery of New South Wales' prestigious painting prizes; the Archibald (portraiture), the Wynne (landscape) and the Sulman (subject/genre). Within his broad output which incorporates painting, drawing, prints and sculpture, there are recurring motifs of which the bird and the female nude are among the most important.

As Barry Pearce explains 'Brett Whiteley is Australia's most sublime painter of birds. They have appeared, often larger than life, in many of his most important paintings. To him, birds are the essential symbol of the song of creation… It is not too fanciful to think of Whiteley’s bird paintings as self portraits' 2. Three of Brett Whiteley’s most memorable solo exhibitions were devoted to the theme, in 1979, 1983 and 1988. Untitled (Bird) c.1979 exhibited at the legendary 1979 Robin Gibson exhibition, Brett Whiteley: Birds and Animals, shows Whiteley at his lyrical best and is among the most astonishing depictions of this most precious of Whiteley's obsessions. Balanced delicately on two large lily pads represented by swift swirls of vibrant emerald green, the bird's brilliant white and blue feathers are mirrored in the surface of a perfectly-still pond. The bird's slight weight and movement causes gentle ripples which distort its reflection and that of nearby overhanging branches, which seem to twist and turn in the water like paper streamers. Whiteley's superb calligraphic handling of the brush and beautiful variation of line, underscoring his interest in Japanese calligraphy, imbues this work with great majesty and harmony. Painted around the time of the culmination of Alchemy 1973, Whiteley's monumental masterpiece almost overwhelmed him in the attempt.

Untitled (Bird) 1973 is a powerful symbol of, as Barry Pearce explains, 'both domesticity and freedom'. 3 A mixed media work which incorporates an actual nest and an egg, Whiteley combines his image of freedom - the bird in full flight, with the image of domesticity - the egg. Perhaps it is the dangers of freedom which this painting speaks of. The fragility of nature is indicated by two slanting rain drops (deft strokes of white paint in the top right corner ) suggesting a pending storm threatening the unhatched egg left cold by its parent. The same symbol appears in the huge multi-panelled work The American Dream, 1968-69 (Art Gallery of Western Australia ) in which the bird exists as a counterpoint to the apocalyptic theme of the work as a whole. As the poet Robert Gray explains, 'In Whiteley's bird paintings is embodied his finest feeling; they are to me his best work. I like in the bird shapes that clarity; that classical, haptic shapeliness; that calm - those clear, perfect lines of a Chinese vase. The breasts of his birds swell with the most attractive emotion in his work. It is bold, vulnerable and tender.' 4

Whiteley's figurative work with its feminine, elongated, seemingly endless curve, undulating line and overt sensual energy is among his most celebrated. These often erotic celebrations of the feminine form appear consistently 'from the mid-sixties… principally inspired by his wife (Wendy) [and continued] for the next three decades… culminating in an exhibition dedicated to the subject in 1981.' 5  First exhibited in London at Fischer Fine Art in September 1977, the Towards Sculpture series of lithographs highlight Whiteley's expert draughtsmanship and masterful understanding of the figure. Towards Sculpture 5 embodies the huge achievement of the series and Whiteley's large body of graphic work; the skillful simplification of form, the reduction of his subject to a series of sensuous arabesques which rise and fall upon the page as if he had given each line a life of its own. Towards Sculpture 5 is related to a mixed media work Nude, Study for large wood carving 1975, private collection Melbourne, illustrated in Brett Whiteley Art and Life, plate 70. 

1. Pearce., B, Brett Whiteley: Art and Life, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1995, p. 21 

2 Pearce., B, Australian Artist's, Australian Birds, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1989

3. The Australian Magazine, 26 August, 1995, p. 16 

4. Robert Gray, 'A few takes on Brett Whiteley', Art and Australia, vol. 24 no. 2, Summer 1986, p. 222

5. Pearce., B, Brett Whiteley: Art and Life, Thames and Hudson, Sydney, 1995, refer plate 52