Private collection, Australia;
Bridget McDonnell Gallery, Melbourne (label attached verso);
Sotheby’s, New York, 31 October 1984, lot 143;
Severn Family Foundation Collection;
Bonhams, Important Australian Art, 24 August 2021, lot 71;
Private collection, Sydney
Ben Quilty recalls he conceived this painting as something of a mask – a Captain Cook mask the artist himself could put on to imagine the world through the eyes of the famous 18th century explorer. Having read extensively through Cook’s diaries, Quilty became fascinated by the man’s initial self belief, an attitude that doubtless contributed to him becoming one of maritime history’s most famous navigators, astronomers and sailors. With the passage of time however, Quilty observed violent changes in Cook’s behaviour toward both his crew and the native populations he encountered.
Cook’s bouts of extreme violence, Quilty along with others postulates, was due in large part to debilitating and personality changing gut conditions, the result of chronic disease. In analysing this change the artist states that ‘Mask’ looks at ‘…the good, the bad and the ugly’. The rorschach technique employed is perfect, providing a multiple image which delves into the human psyche, a reflection and investigation of James Cook the man, and his changing psychological states.
the verso with a pencilled inscription signed by the artist, accompanied by several small sketches that relate to its dedicatee (see below)
24 x 29.5cm
Private collection, Sydney
The pencilled inscription on the reverse reads:
‘To Fred Draper (the olde bird) as a slight unfinished memento of his friend, & trusting that he will be good & play plucky to the last. [signed] Arthur Streeton‘; immediately beneath this is a sketch of a billiard cue and cue rest, with a further inscription: ‘In off the red and cannon, play your own game “old burd” – Ha Ha!‘, followed by other sketches including music notation, a smoking pipe, a schnapps bottle and shot glasses, and a publican’s handbell; at the foot is written: ‘… mince or cold meat? Steak please‘.
This watercolour would have been painted during one of Streeton’s visits to Mittagong, in the New South Wales Southern Highlands, most likely in 1892. It is dominated by a side view of the original Commercial Hotel, an impressive double-storey building with distinctive brick work and high roof. The hotel was built by its proprietor, Fred Draper, senior, and when it opened in 1875 it became one of the town’s principal landmarks. The building was demolished in 1927.
Based on the wording, content and humour in Streeton’s dedication on the back of the painting, it seems reasonable to speculate that Streeton stayed at the Commercial Hotel on at least one of his visits to Mittagong, and that he struck up an informal friendship with Fred Draper. Draper was an engaging and popular figure who also served as a town councillor. We can imagine the artist and the publican playing billiards and drinking together in the convivial atmosphere of this country pub, renowned for its hospitality. When Streeton presented Draper with this beautiful watercolour of his own hotel, perhaps it was even in lieu of payment for his accommodation?
In 1892 Streeton painted the large watercolour The Vale of Mittagong, now in the NGV collection. Streeton wrote from Mittagong to his friend Tom Roberts at the time:
‘Have been 4 or 5 days on a picture from the summit of a huge precipice called the Gib (Gibraltar). This picture I wish to make chiefly remarkable for its delicate colouring, and to that end have climbed the aforesaid rock (400 or 550 feet up) 5 times and down again, after a walk of 1 3/4 miles from the township. However have done my best, and have, I think already made the picture, much my best commencement for a picture in watercolour paints. Mittagong is beautifully surrounded by high and rocky hills. There are about 4 or 5 public houses, a blacksmith’s shop, store, etc. etc.‘ (Christopher Wray. Arthur Streeton : painter of light, p. 71)
Two watercolours, both dated 1890 and with the same title Study at Mittagong, are recorded as numbers 108 and 109 in The Arthur Streeton Catalogue (1935), where they are described as “lost”.
The date of the present watercolour most certainly has a terminus ante quem, since Draper took his own life in May 1893, after suffering from chronic nephritis for a lengthy period. (Indeed, it is possible that Streeton’s use of the phrase ‘plucky to the last’ alludes to the fact that Draper was expecting to die from his acutely painful condition, for which there would have been no treatment or cure). The following report on the death of Fred Draper, senior, appeared in the Bowral Free Press and Berrima District Intelligencer, 20 May 1893:
‘A Sad End. DEATH OF ALDERMAN DRAPER OF MITTAGONG THROUGH STRYCHNINE POISONING. We briefly alluded in our last to the death of Alderman Draper of Mittagong after a lengthened illness. For many months his health had been giving way, and several months ago he took to his bed, suffering from Brights’ disease, heart disease, and general dropsy. He gradually got worse, the pains increased, sleep failed him, until between 10 and 11 o’clock on Tuesday morning, while in a fit of temporary insanity, he took a dose of strychnine, and so ended his life a few minutes afterwards. His age was 56 years. By his death a prominent figure in the history of Mittagong has been removed. He was truly a man of the world – shrewd and full of energy. He would.succeed where many would fail. He was highly respected by many. He had a spirit of enterprise, and the faculty for succeeding. He leaves a widow and grown-up family. The funeral on Wednesday afternoon was largely attended….‘
An inquest found that ‘the deceased had died from strychnine poising, self administered, during a fit of temporary insanity.’
The Collection of Frank Watters, Sydney (Watters Gallery 14/25/002 on verso)
Tony Tuckson Figurative Paintings, Watters Gallery, 30 September – 18 October, 2014, Cat no. 2
Tuckson undertook his final year of study in 1949 at East Sydney Technical College under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme for exservicemen. The figurative works from this period, through to the mid- 1950s, are among Tuckson’s most accomplished – they are raw, painterly and powerful. Each is masterfully constructed. While the influences of Picasso, Modigliani and Klee are apparent, the artist cited his two most inspiring mentors at the time to be Grace Crowley and Ralph Balson. Both these artists taught him briefly with their weekly classes in abstraction at East Sydney.