Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 August 2018


(1920 – 1999)

oil on canvas

91.5 x 71.0 cm

signed and dated lower right: John Brack 57
inscribed with title on frame verso: Nude with nightgown
bears inscription verso: 2

$500,000 – 700,000
Sold for $610,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 55 - 29 August 2018, Sydney

Australian Galleries, Melbourne (label attached verso)
Len Voss Smith, Melbourne
The Major Harold De Vahl Rubin Collection, Brisbane (label attached verso)
Christie’s, Sydney, 4 October 1972, lot 486
Rudy Komon Gallery, Sydney (label attached verso, stock no. 3278)
Alan and Nola Geddes, Sydney
Estate of Nola Geddes, Sydney


Exhibition by John Brack: Paintings and Drawings of the Nude, Australian Galleries, Melbourne, 12 – 29 November 1957, cat. 8


Grishin, S., The Art of John Brack, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1990, vol. II, cat. o72, pp. 11, 104 (illus.)

Catalogue text

John Brack was well versed in the history of art and it remained an essential touchstone and source of inspiration throughout his career. Close study of his oeuvre reveals references to the work of masters of Western art, from Ingres and Seurat to Bernard Buffet, which range from the obscure to the obvious. The most recognisable example of Brack’s artistic borrowings is The Bar, 1954 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne), which appropriates both the subject and composition of Édouard Manet’s famous depiction of A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882 (Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London). In Brack’s characteristic way however, the Post-Impressionist Master’s clever visual trick of depicting the scene in front of the barmaid reflected in a mirror is used to describe the subject as he witnessed it in 1950s Melbourne – a drab image of dour-faced workers drinking their fill before the imminent early closing of the pub rather than the gay opulence of 1880s Paris.

NGV Brack.jpg

Nude in an armchair, 1957
oil on canvas
127.6 × 107.4 cm
courtesy of National Gallery of
Victoria, Melbourne

Having sold around half of the watercolours from the Racecourse series which he exhibited in November 1956, Brack hired a model with the idea of testing the development of his own work through a return to the discipline of drawing from life. Conscious of the long tradition of the nude in Western art, and surely wondering how he might make a significant contribution to it, Brack also pondered the possibilities of readdressing the genre1 and treating it in a different way. The single response Brack received to his newspaper advertisement was from a middle-aged woman whose appearance was so far removed from the fleshy subjects that typically graced such depictions that he had no choice but to challenge the expectations of the nude in art with the series that ensued.

Nude with Nightgown, 1957 is just that, an image of a naked woman sitting on a bed with her pink nightgown draped casually on the blanket folded across its foot. The interior setting is sparse and domestic, presumably a bedroom in Brack’s North Balwyn home where all of the paintings in the series were made. There are no details which might provide an insight into the personality or life of the figure and her thin, angular body is echoed by the linear form of the bed, her pale flesh almost indistinguishable from the background painted walls. The atmosphere of many of these paintings is one of an uncomfortable tension and Brack’s recognition of the ‘fact that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever erotic in an artist’s model unclothed in a suburban empty room’2 is clearly communicated. Setting himself the task of de-eroticising the nude and in the process, subverting one of the primary expectations of the genre1, Brack presented a challenge to his viewers. While many commented on the skinny and sexless nature of the model, the critical response was generally positive. Reviewing Brack’s solo exhibition at Australian Galleries in November 1957, Herald critic Alan McCulloch reflected the prevailing attitude, ‘In thus accepting the challenge of the great traditions, Brack risks a lot – but he brings it off. Here, within the limits of his own brand of stylisation … he is on all occasions master of the situation’.3

AGNSW Brack.jpg

Nude with two chairs, 1957
oil on canvas
81.3 x 61.0 cm
courtesy of Art Gallery of New South
Wales, Sydney

The National Gallery of Victoria purchased the major work, Nude in an Armchair, 1957 directly from the exhibition and the striking Nude with Two Chairs, 1957 was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Other paintings from the exhibition – all dated 1957 – are held in major public collections, including The Bathroom (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) and Nude on the Black Bed, 1957, in the Art Gallery of Ballarat. One of nine paintings and sixteen related drawings displayed in the exhibition, Nude with Nightgown was purchased from the Australian Galleries exhibition by Len Voss Smith, a publisher and art consultant, before being sold to the noted Brisbane collector, Major Harold De Vahl Rubin. The painting was later bought from Rudy Komon by Alan Geddes, General Manager and Director of Mercantile Mutual Life in Sydney, and it has remained in his collection and that of his family since that time.

1. Grishin, S., The Art of John Brack, vol. 1, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1990, p. 59
2. Brack, J., interview, Australian Contemporary Art Archive, no. 1, Deakin University Media Production, 1980, transcript, p. 6
3. McCulloch, A., ‘Classical themes’, Herald, Melbourne, 13 November 1957, p. 29