Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 November 2008

James Gleeson

(1915 - 2008)

oil on composition board

64.0 x 54.0 cm

signed lower right: Gleeson

$25,000 - 35,000
Sold for $36,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 6 - 26 November 2008, Melbourne

South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne (label attached verso)
Private collection
Tony Palmer, Sydney
Private collection, Western Australia


James Gleeson, South Yarra Gallery, Melbourne, July 1968, cat. 3 (as Primavera)

Catalogue text

The mystery of the seasons has fascinated poets, philosophers, and priests throughout time. Explanations of why summer, through autumn, plunged into the darkest cold of winter, and then magically revived in spring have inspired writers and artists in all civilisations. In Primavera Emerging from the Rock James Gleeson draws on Classical and Renaissance ideas and imagery to create a work that imaginatively explores the subconscious as a means of perception beyond the mere senses. Gleeson's references are poetically inspired and often complex. Primavera Emerging from the Rock by title associates itself with things Italian, 'primavera' being the Italian word for spring, and his figures recall those of Botticelli and other Florentine Quattrocento masters.

Spring/Primavera in the guise of a beautiful young woman, stands at the mouth of a cave, on the threshold of the world, and is greeted by another. The background of falling waters alludes to another spring as the source of a river, and the cave's womb-like shape is a further metaphor of birth and new life.

Gleeson's direct reference to Classical mythology is through the story of Ceres and Persephone, of the world neglected while Ceres, goddess of agriculture, searches in vain for her daughter. Gleeson depicts the moment when Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, having temporarily left her consort Pluto, returns to earth to join her mother - the coming of spring. Other related references include the Biblical - the figure of the woman rising from the sleeping figure of the man, the creation of Eve from Adam's rib - birth, re-birth, a modern renaissance. The relationship between the earth, in the form of rocks, and water is characteristically Gleeson, as is the celebration of the beauty of the human figure. Man is the master of creation. Such status carries heavy responsibilities. In the right background the ideal figure of man holds aloft a golden ball from which other figures radiate in peacock-like physical splendour. The reference is again Classical - Atlas holding up the world and its heavens on his shoulders. Gleeson's engagement of ancient beliefs to interpret his present world is striking in its perception and individuality.