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Wartime in Melbourne

Russell Drysdale Man feeding his dogs 1941

Russell Drysdale, Australia 1912-1981 | Man feeding his dogs 1941 | Oil on canvas | Gift of C.F. Viner-Hall 1961 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Queensland Art Gallery

Currently on display | Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries | Queensland Art Gallery (QAG)

From the time of European settlement, many Australian artists sought to define their world through landscape painting. Around World War Two, however, artists became concerned with the human condition and the realities of urban life. A radical group of Melbourne artists, the so‑called ‘Angry Penguins’ – including Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, John Perceval and Sidney Nolan – created their expressionist art amid this cultural climate. Taking its name from a magazine published by Max Harris and John Reed, the group championed an art that was vital, spontaneous and anti-Establishment. John Reed and Sunday Reed became the patrons of the group and their home, ‘Heide’, on the outskirts of Melbourne – now the Heide Museum of Art – was the location for fervent discussions about contemporary art.

Though each artist adopted their own individual style, together they enjoyed a shared interest in European Modernism, including Surrealism and German Expressionism. Artists who migrated to Australia in the pre- and postwar period, including Josl Bergner and Danila Vassilieff, invigorated this scene, and brought with them direct experience of international trends; Vassilieff’s advocacy for children’s art was of particular interest to his Australian contemporaries. The paintings made by members of the group, both during and immediately after the war, highlighted the social turmoil and anxiety implicit in the conflict.

These modernist developments were also responsible for reinvigorating the landscape tradition in Australia. Russell Drysdale’s surrealist-influenced paintings introduced a note of tension that has persisted in Australian landscape painting, while other works, such as Arthur Boyd’s postwar Berwick landscape 1948, although lighter in both palette and subject, retain a distinctly expressionist style.

Collection Highlights

Russell Drysdale Man feeding his dogs 1941

Russell Drysdale never painted out of doors – he gathered his imagery in drawings and photographs, creating his paintings in the studio. This painting was condensed from years in the Riverina area of New South Wales. He has taken the horizon line down unnaturally low, effectively providing a dog's-eye view of the world. Drysdale suggested the principal figure in this painting ‘was one of those people who could have been a rabbiter on a property or … an employee whose job it was to look after the station dogs'.

For Kids
Russell Drysdale liked to paint the everyday life of people who live in the country. Here he has painted a man feeding his dogs. They are jumping up and seem very happy to see him. Dogs like these are very important in the country as they help farmers herd their livestock. What do you think he might have in the sack to feed them? If you look carefully you can see a chair in a funny place in the painting. Do you have any idea how it got there?

Of Interest 

The Queensland Art Gallery houses a significant collection of Australian paintings, sculptures, decorative art objects, and works on paper. Find more information on these selected Collection highlights | Indigenous Australian Art | Queensland Heritage | Australian Art to 1975 | Contemporary Australian Art 

Search the Queensland Art Gallery's Collection online for works by Rex Battarbee, James Cant, William Dargie, William Dobell, Russell Drysdale, Douglas Dundas, James Gleeson, Nora Heysen, Adrian Lawlor, Daphne Mayo, Albert Namatjira, John Perceval, Henock Raberaba, Herbert Raberaba, Peter Purves Smith, Albert Tucker, Danila Vassilieff and Eric Wilson | Collection Search