Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 November 2008

Margaret Preston

(1875 - 1963)

oil on canvas

49.0 x 43.5 cm

signed and dated in pencil lower left: Margaret Preston 1928

$120,000 - 150,000
Sold for $156,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 6 - 26 November 2008, Melbourne

Camille Gheysens, Sydney
Benno C. Schmidt, Orleans Farm, Esperance, Western Australia
Tony Moore, Manager, Orleans Farm, Esperance, Western Australia
On loan to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, October 1994–1996 (label attached verso)
Thence by descent
Private collection, Western Australia


Society of Artists, Annual Exhibition, Education Department's Art Gallery, Sydney, 8 September – 5 October 1928, cat. 100

Catalogue text

The late twenties were vintage years for Margaret Preston's art, when she produced some of her best paintings. Chief among these are Banksia, 1927, (National Gallery of Australia), Implement in Blue, 1927, and Western Australian Gum Blossom, 1928, (both Art Gallery of New South Wales), and Aboriginal Flowers, 1928, (Art Gallery of South Australia). Australian Gum Blossom, 1928, also in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, is one of Preston's most popular paintings and considered by the noted British writer Somerset Maugham as the best.1 In 1928 he wrote to Sydney Ure Smith:

I have been extremely interested in making acquaintance with the work of this artist. It seems to me full of character. It is quite evident that to an uneducated taste Margaret Preston's latest work must be a little difficult to accept. My own feeling is very definite that the less representative Margaret Preston is and the more purely formal and designed the more interesting and original her work is.2

Maugham could have been writing about any of the above paintings, including Australian Glory Flower, for each is striking in its bold simplification, emphasis on geometric form and strong colour. She was at her best in the inventive use of composition. For a brief period from 1927 to 1928 her more conventional painting was overlapped by a modernist geometric phase, distinguished by greater simplification of design in which she reduced the pictorial elements of each painting to a few single, striking motifs, powerful in their appeal. The same can be seen in her colour woodcuts, none better than Wheelflower (the block was cut c.1928), which she regarded as one of her best, being 'one of the few prints that she retained in her collection.'3 The print and paintings shared a new bravura and dynamism as Preston moved from mere representation to explore the underlying structure and inherent geometry of her objects. A concentration on the essential, combined with a greater emphasis on the flatness of the picture plane and using such devices as tilting tabletops, resulted in an appealing balance and fusion of naturalism and geometricism. All these features are found in Australian Glory Flower, including a greater clarity, and an ongoing interest in the visual drama of stripes. Here, more audacious use of white introduces another Preston characteristic of offsetting strong colours such as red with the neutrals of black and white. In 1927 Ure Smith described Preston as being at 'the very front rank of present day still-life painters'.4Australian Glory Flower is among a select group of paintings that confirm this observation.

1. 'Biographical Notes', Riddler, E., Peel, R., Edwards, D., in Edwards, D., (et al.), Margaret Preston, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005, p. 276
2. Maugham to Ure Smith, 28 July 1928, Mitchell Library MS 31/7/169, quoted in North, I., (ed.), The Art of Margaret Preston, Art Gallery Board of South Australia, Adelaide, 1980, p. 64
3. Butler, R., The Prints of Margaret Preston: A Catalogue raissoné, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1987, p. 144
4. Ure Smith, S., editorial, 'Margaret Preston Number', Art in Australia, 3rd series, no.22, December 1927, n.p.