21 May – 15 October 2022
The Art Gallery of Ballarat presents the art of Max Meldrum, one of Australia’s most influential 20th century painters, in a new exhibition, Light + Shade: Max Meldrum and his followers. Despite recent neglect of the genre, Meldrum’s Tonalist movement is said to be one of the most unique and memorable Australian art movements, playing a role in the development of Australian Modernism. Meldrum and his followers make up the Tonalist movement, which flowed through the art world from the early to mid 20th century. Tonalism is identifiable by muted tones, ‘misty’ appearance and restricted colour palette. Light + Shade features distinctive artworks produced in Australia by Tonalist artists between the two world wars.
As a painter and teacher, Meldrum was adored and reviled in equal measure – his controversial outlook on painting brought him a dedicated following of ‘Meldrumites’ who admired his theories, methods and ideas and who formed close friendships and an exchange of ideas among themselves.
Clarice Beckett, who is arguably Meldrum’s most famous student, is considered one of the great successes in Tonalism. Her art, with its focus on the arrangement of forms and surfaces, using soft and hazy palettes, was recently celebrated at the Art Gallery of South Australia‘s major exhibition Clarice Beckett: Present Moment. Beckett had a strong connection to Ballarat, where she went to school and she also later painted the Botanic Gardens.
This exhibition showcases works from the Art Gallery of Ballarat Collection, bringing together paintings by Max Meldrum, Clarice Beckett, Colin Colahan, Alma Figuerola, Jock Frater, Harry Harrison, Percy Leason and other ‘Meldrumites’.
The exhibition features some important recent acquisitions by the Gallery as well as work collected since the 1920s, demonstrating the extraordinary strength of the Gallery’s Collection. Gallery Director, Louise Tegart said that the capacity to mount such a comprehensive exhibition of this important art movement was a testament to the depth of the Gallery Collection.
‘We hold some fabulous examples of the work of Tonalist artists, including important works by Clarice Beckett and Max Meldrum, but we also hold works by many of Meldrum’s students and followers.
‘We have also used the exhibition as an opportunity to build on this area of our Collection, by acquiring works, including a gorgeous landscape by Meldrum, a spectacular still life by Harry Harrison and an early Clarice Beckett still life which is quite different in tone from the two sublime grey seascapes already in our Collection.’
Meldrum developed his distinctive theory of painting after he was awarded a travelling scholarship in 1899. He travelled Europe consolidating his beliefs and ideologies about art which he brought back to Australia. In 1916 he opened a school in Melbourne where he taught his new theory – Tonalism. He encouraged minimal use of paint and a restricted colour palette, arguing that a painter should consider the tonal variations of the subject (the darkness and light) ahead of drawing skill and colour. Meldrum’s exploration of visual perception, as opposed to the depiction of the portrait subject’s personality was endorsed Archibald Prize judges who awarded him the Prize twice.
Light + Shade: Max Meldrum and his followers casts a light on Max Meldrum and his followers, whose artwork stands the test of time and contributes to Australia’s art history evolution. It includes still life paintings, landscapes and interiors that use limited tonal variation to define variations of shade and light in paintings. The exhibition will feature Melbourne landscapes, such as Colin Colahan’s oil on canvas painting of Elizabeth Street, and beach scenes and other landscapes.
The Art Gallery of Ballarat is the oldest, largest and most engaging regional art gallery in Australia. Established in 1884 by the citizens of Ballarat, the Gallery is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register and by the National Trust of Victoria. As well as the extensive permanent collection the Gallery hosts a diverse range of touring and temporary exhibitions and regularly curates significant shows which have at their heart or are inspired by works in the Collection.
The exhibition will be a feature of the Ballarat Heritage Festival which runs from 21 to 29 May and the Ballarat Winter Festival which runs from 25 June to 17 July. The exhibition will be supported by public programs, including a talk by Peter Perry OAM, one of Australia’s leading experts on the Tonalism movement, on 8 June.
ART GALLERY OF BALLARAT
40 Lydiard Street North,
21 May – 15 October 2022
Image credits: Max Meldrum, Still life, 1924. Oil on canvas. Purchased by public subscription, 1924. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ballarat. © Estate of Max Meldrum
Clarice Beckett, Misty evening, Beaumaris, circa 1930. Oil on board. Maud Rowe Bequest, 1937. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ballarat
Colin Colahan, Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, 1929. Maud Rowe Bequest, 1937. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ballarat
© The Estate of Colin Colahan