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Peter Bouras


(1950) Vaucluse, Sydney
oil on canvas
71.1 x 91.5 cm
inscribed in purple paint l.r.:
Russell Drysdale
Private collection

Travellers in the northern outback have all met Joe, the Greek cafe keeper, and yet they will never meet him. Drysdale's pictures are composed in his studio, never modelled on a single person or place. Joe is not a portrait. He is the image that typifies, created out of a thousand impressions and a remarkable and highly visual memory.
(Joseph Burke, The Paintings of Russell Drysdale, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1951, p. 11)

His study of Joe, the storekeeper, drugged with silence and staring into space, has all the monumentality of a quattrocento fresco, combined with the humanity of a Daumier. It is this ability to fuse the precision of the classicist with the feeling of the humanist that gives Drysdale his main strength.
(James Gleeson, 'Russell Drysdale', Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, Sydney, October 1960, p. 42)

In 1950 Drysdale produced a number of paintings that contrasted interior and exterior spaces. Joe shares with Maria and Tractor-face Jackson a composition based on a reflective individual framed by strong architectural elements, with an intense external light source. The figures appear neither comfortable nor uncomfortable in their surroundings, but look beyond the viewer and remain preoccupied by their own thoughts. The first owner of Joe was the music publisher Sir Alexis Albert (1904-96). He had seen the painting at the Macquarie Galleries in August 1950 but was told it was reserved for the London exhibition in December. He wired a colleague in London with instructions to purchase the painting on the opening day of Drysdale's coming exhibition at the Leicester Galleries.1 The Alberts formed an important collection of Australian art which also included Drysdale's Herb Thompson. 2

1 Letter from the Albert family to the author, 2 May 1996.
2 Herb Thompson(1953), oil on canvas, 60.7 ´ 75.9 cm, private collection.

An Australian Broadcasting Corporation and National Gallery of Victoria Collaboration
© 1999 ABC and NGV


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