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Early Brisbane drawings

Lloyd Rees, Treasury Buildings 1920

Lloyd Rees | Treasury Buildings 1920 | Pen, ink and pencil on wove handmade paper | Purchased 1922 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © Queensland Art Gallery

Lloyd Rees, Customs House, Brisbane c.1913

Lloyd Rees | Customs House, Brisbane c.1913 | Pencil on paper | Proposed gift of Alan and Jan Rees through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | © Lloyd Rees c.1913. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2011

Read more in the exhibition publication Lloyd Rees: Life and Light

Lloyd Rees’s early Brisbane drawings remain the least known of his oeuvre but they reveal a maturity of observation and an acute awareness of light for such a young artist. The sketches were mainly done between the ages of 17 and 22 prior to Rees moving to Sydney in 1917 to work for Smith and Julius, the city’s foremost commercial art studio. These drawings not only document Brisbane buildings between 1912 and 1917, but also represent the awakening of a lifelong fascination with architecture. For Rees, drawing buildings was a means of rendering the world in light and shade, displaying an affinity for the drawings of American etcher Joseph Pennell (1858−1926), whose illustrations he had closely studied:

I was to learn that there were few areas in the world where a black and white treatment could be so valuable. The lightness of the architecture, composed of so much light stone and stucco, contrasted with the virtual blackness of umbrella pines and cypress trees, the shadow of arches and the small black windows in big, light wall spaces.1

Rees received his first art training at the Brisbane Central Technical College in 1912 under R Godfrey Rivers, FJ Martyn Roberts and LJ Harvey. On leaving school Rees undertook clerical work, as his weakness in mathematics and physics precluded him from studying architecture. His job delivering letters and packages to various locations around the city allowed him a freedom which he described as ‘my joy and my release, because I walked in a Brisbane of my own creation’.2 The Brisbane of Rees’s imagination was based on his vision of the city of Paris, which he described in his book The Small Treasures of a Lifetime:

Brisbane was an imaginary city of boulevards, riverside quays, graceful bridges, trees, squares and fountains and of course, buildings. 3

In these short years, Rees had already established himself as a major talent. In 1913 he was appointed Junior Artist on the staff of the Queensland Government Printing office, where he produced four sets of postcards of Brisbane’s notable buildings. Additional private commissions during this time included St Brigid’s Church, Red Hill; the home of the Cowlishaw family in Hamilton; and the L’Estrange home at Kelvin Grove.

Linked to the gift of a fine group of early Brisbane Lloyd Rees drawings — the first in a planned major series of gifts to the Gallery by Alan and Jan Rees, the son and daughter-in-law of the artist — an exhibition of Rees’s works from the Gallery’s Collection opens in March 2011. These additions to the Collection expand on an earlier gift of Brisbane drawings by the artist’s family in 1999 and showcase Rees as one of the finest exponents of drawing in Australia.

The pencil drawings, full of energy and confidence, demonstrate the young artist’s spontaneous engagement with his subject. In these early works lay the foundations for his exceptional drawings of Sydney in the 1930s, some of the most accomplished drawings by an Australian artist. Remaining in the artist’s possession throughout his life, the importance of these Brisbane drawings to Rees is shown in his numbering of them individually and categorising them into various groups according to subject: ‘Architecture’, ‘Trees’, ‘Figures’ etc. There are 350 Brisbane drawings in total of which the Gallery will eventually hold the vast majority — an invaluable resource and a remarkable record of Brisbane’s past.

Michael Hawker is Assistant Curator, Australian Art to 1975, Queensland Art Gallery|Gallery of Modern Art.
1. Lloyd Rees, The Small Treasures of a Lifetime, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1995, p.45.
2. Lloyd Rees, Peaks and Valleys: Lloyd Rees An Autobiography, ed. Elizabeth Butel, Collins, Sydney, 1985, p.61.
3. Lloyd Rees, The Small Treasures of a Lifetime, p.45.

Lloyd Rees: Life and Light is an A5 sketchbook format publication with more than 70 plate pages accompanying the exhibition | 92 pages paperback illustrated | Internet Price: $22.45