Mother and child, North Queensland
Mother and child, North Queensland

Russell Drysdale

1912 - 1981 Mother and child, North Queensland 1950
  • oil on canvas
127 cm x 101.6 cm


1912 - 1981

Mother and Child North Queensland 1950

oil on canvas

101cm x 127cm

Acquired in 2000

'Drysdale's Street in Cairns is big in every way. Its original features have an epic largeness. Seen as if lower than ordinary eye level, they seem to dwarf the buildings which line the street, and to stand poised in a moment which seems permanent against the mellow sky, like figures remembered in a saga. So exact is the interval between the figures, that each, while contributing to the composition of the group, has a separate and lasting identity.' Laurence Thomas, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 February 1950, p.8

In 1947 Drysdale had been appointed as a director of Pioneer sugar Mills, and henceforth travelled to northern Queensland each month for board meetings. The regular travel to a different environment provided Drysdale with fresh material for his work and, returning from Queensland early in 1950, he completed 'a large picture of a coloured family in a street in Cairns' (Drysdale). The image of mother and child was a constant theme throughout Drysdale's career. However, Mother and child, North Queensland was the first instance of an indigenous subject appearing in his work. A work of special significance to the artist, it remained in the possession of the Drysdale family until 1992 Geoffrey Smith, Russell Drysdale 1912-81, National Gallery of Victoria, 1997.

One of the most interesting aspects of this work is the way in which Drysdale has depicted the family as a serene and imposing presence against the backdrop of the town. The mother's protective stance and gentle gaze evokes classical imagery of the Madonna and child. Emphasising a sense of the individuals' belonging within the environment of the outback town, this image of an indigenous family is singular in art of the period.

More by this artist

Russell Drysdale 1912 - 1981 Youth at Broome
  • oil on canvas
126.3 cm x 75.7 cm

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The Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Custodians of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

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