David Jones, artist and poet (1895-1974) begins his PREFACE TO THE ANATHEMATA :

'I have made a heap of all that I could find.' (1) So wrote Nennius, or whoever composed the introductory matter to Historia Brittonum. He speaks of an 'inward wound' which was caused by the fear that certain things dear to him 'should be like smoke dissipated'. Further, he says, 'not trusting my own learning, which is none at all, but partly from writings and monuments of the ancient inhabitants of Britain, partly from the annals of the Romans and the chronicles of the sacred fathers, Isidore, Hieronymous, Prosper, Eusebius and from the histories of the Scots and Saxons although our enemies . . . I have lispingly put together this . . . about past transactions, that [this material] might not be trodden under foot'. (2)

(1) The actual words are coacervavi omne quod inveni, and occur in Prologue 2 to the Historia.
(2) Quoted from the translation of Prologue 1. See The Works of Gildas and Nennius, J.A.Giles, London 1841.

27 May 2014


Today, we received requests from two Australian Art Museums seeking donations for acquisitions. 

From QAGOMA for a "striking portrait" by Ben Quilty, Sergeant P, after Afghanistan 2012.

And from the National Gallery of Australia for this:

The National Gallery of Australia Foundation is proud to present a significant and charming painting, Benjamin Duterrau's An infant of Van Diemen's Land 1840, that we hope to acquire for the national art collection through the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund, now in its eleventh year.  However, this acquisition will only be possible with your generous support. 

Everyone’s life can be enriched through art. Through the national collection, stories can be told, experiences can be shared and the cultural landscape of Australia is enriched in perpetuity. The Masterpieces for the Nation Fund is an annual appeal that gives all Australians the opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the development of the national art collection. In order to tell a full and diverse story of our Nation’s art, the Gallery endeavours to acquire works of art that have originated from every Australian state and territory. 

Since 2003,  the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund has allowed the Gallery to acquire numerous major works of art, such as Florence Fuller’s serene Western Australian landscape A golden hour c1905, William Robinson’s torrid Queensland rainforest scene Twin Falls and Gorge 2000 and Nora Heyson’s beautiful Self Portrait 1932 from South Australia. This year, we look to our most Southern state, Tasmania, with Benjamin Duterrau’s memorable portrait.

An infant of Van Diemen's Land 1840 shows a robust Australian child with sweet, rosy cheeks sitting firmly on the ground playing with a cup and ball toy in a Tasmanian setting. She is dressed in white muslin, a late Regency-style dress with a bonnet, apt clothing for the Australian summer. She smiles, has alert blue eyes, and seems to be happily posing for this painting, which has little of the conventional sentimentality of many child images. The infant is depicted looking intently at a little bird (possibly a juvenile Flame Robin or a Tasmanian Thornbill) on the branch of a tree, an endearing companion to the little girl. Nearby there is a cool expanse of water. Beside her, springing from the ground, are self-conscious depictions of distinctly local Tasmanian plants—a white flag iris (the upper flower), Australian bluebells (below), spiny-headed mat rush or sedge and a white paper daisy. Above her, there are the leaves and yellow flowers of what is probably a wattle tree. In this way the artist made sure that his subject was recognisably ‘an infant of Van Diemen’s Land’. Certainly, the painting suggests Tasmania to be a safe and bountiful natural playground and her inhabitants to be healthy and free to play—in bare feet, as they might not have done back in cold, more restrictive England.

Donations above $2 are tax deductible. Contributions will be acknowledged in Artonview magazine and the National Gallery of Australia Foundation Annual Report.  Please help us to continue to develop the national art collection for the enjoyment of all Australians by making a contribution in support of Benjamin Duterrau’s engaging An infant of Van Diemen’s Land,1840.

Today's brochure of request refers to this object, in each of its three headlines, as a "masterpiece" : 
- Masterpieces for the Nation Fund 2014
- In pursuit of a masterpiece
- Help us bring an Australian colonial masterpiece into the national art collection.

Cranium scratching. When we hear the word masterpiece we reach for our fallback positions : 
- "Unsheathe your dagger definitions."(JJ)
- The Two Truths : relative and absolute, co-existing

Is this a masterpiece? Was Benjamin Duterrau a master? The wordage in support doesn't make the case :  
- He is admired today for his bold, naive style
- This delightful and naive painting...
- This robust Australian child with sweet, rosy cheeks...

We are not told the work's price, nor how much is being sought from us at this time of our supposed National Economic Crisis. A quick online search shows it was sold in London at Christie's Australian Art auction last September for £73,875 ($AU118,717).

Seen from the Centrelink queue, that's a change-of-life amount; but it's not a lot in the relativity of Art World Prices. Especially for a Masterpiece.

We presume, despite the words below, that the object has already been acquired by the NGA
... we hope to acquire for the national art collection through the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund, now in its eleventh year. However, this acquisition will only be possible with your generous support.
and therefore that this is a promotional or support-building exercise of some sort? If so, is this choice of object a reflection of the NGA's estimation of their audience? Is this the current dredging level of our national aspiration? Masterpieces for the Nation - whither Blue Poles?

Don't get us wrong, we do like this pic:
We like images of regard. 
This is an image of regard.
We like this.

A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/
someone looks at something ... 


Sometimes we like figures of allegory.
This may or may not be one of those.
We like the cup and ball Instrument of the Passion that the infant holds.
It appears to mean everything to us/HA HA


We like lots of things for lots of reasons, and for reasons unknown. But just because we like things doesn't make them Masterpieces.
LOGOS/HA HA : buy it if they want, of course, but at a time when so much debased LANGUAGE and so little VISION (now there is a curious word) emanates from the ACT (another curious word use) do we really need this unnecessary resort to... MASTERPIECE?

A Person Looks At A Work Of Art/
someone looks at something ...