Important Australian + International Fine Art
9 May 2007

Jeffrey Smart

born 1921

oil on canvas on board

49.5 x 61.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: JEFFREY SMART 64 inscribed verso: PIRAEUS I

$150,000 - 200,000
Sold for $180,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 1 - 9 May 2007, Melbourne

Galleria 88, Rome
Private collection, Italy
Sotheby's, Sydney, 31 July 1985, lot 57
Private collection, Melbourne


Jeffrey Smart, Galleria 88, Rome, 8-23 April 1965, cat.7
Exhibition of Paintings: Jeffrey Smart, Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 29 September-11 October 1965, cat.11, as 'Piraeus'


Quartermaine, P., Jeffrey Smart, Gryphon Books, Melbourne, 1983, pp. 29 (illus.) & 108, cat.423

Catalogue text

Jeffrey Smart is the master of the enigmatic. Like masked figures in Venice at Carnevale, the faces of his people reveal nothing, paradoxically revealing everything. That is the essence of Smart's art. In Piraeus I the youth's face is in half shade, looking at the viewer neither quizzically nor contemplatively - just looking. All the chairs are empty, except that one occupied by the youth- empty chairs are a familiar metaphor for absent people, often used by Smart. Even the lettering on the banner is only part revealed. The rhetorical repetition of lines play all kinds of visual brinkmanship- of shadow, the strand and distant sea, their strong horizontal lines relieved only by chairs of several shapes and colours - another hidden meaning? Barry Pearce, in his monograph on Smart, refers to the artist shielding 'his emotional life behind a carapace of methodology.' 1 According to Pearce, this 'philosophy of objectivity' was encouraged by his friendship with the English actor John Gielgud, who 'asserted that one must never impart emotional energy into a role, only replicate its outward manifestation expertly.'2 Smart found such echoes in Leonardo and his Renaissance hero, Piero della Francesca. His own paintings combine compositional brilliance with personal neutrality, touched with a sense of something about to happen. Piraeus I is a classic example; the figure is isolated and the sky threatens. Smart was in Greece in 1964, he and Justin O'Brien spending the summer on the island of Skyros. They went via Athens, where Smart painted a gouache study and this oil of its port of Piraeus.

1. Pearce, B., Jeffrey Smart, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2005 p.85
2. Ibid