With a career spanning seven decades, Adelaide-born Smart provided a fresh take on 20th century modernity, capturing the dynamism and beauty of urban life in his depictions of sweeping roadways, high-rise apartments, construction sites and other elements of the industrial age.
Marking the centenary of Smart’s birth in 1921, Jeffrey Smart brings together more than 100 works of art from public lenders and private collectors as well as the National Gallery’s collection, tracing his artistic legacy from his early years in South Australia to his last painting, Labyrinth, completed in 2011, two years before his death.
Exhibition curators Dr Deborah Hart, Henry Dalrymple Head Curator, Australian Art, and Dr Rebecca Edwards, Sid and Fiona Myer Curator, Australian Art, have explored Smart’s career to share different dimensions for audiences familiar with his practice, as well as inspiring visitors discovering his art for the first time.
Jeffrey Smart showcases Smart’s artistic vision around themes including theatre of the real and the uncanny; surveillance; abstraction and figuration; portraiture; and art about art.
National Gallery Director Nick Mitzevich said Smart was a unique voice in Australian art and his work was part of the DNA of the National Gallery, which will mark 40 years since its opening in 2022.
“Jeffrey Smart made an impact on generations of artists, art students and art lovers and we are pleased to remember his remarkable life in this centenary year,” said Mr Mitzevich.
“He has been an important part of the National Gallery for decades – even before its inception – when the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board purchased Wallaroo in 1959, for what was to become the national collection.”
Dr Hart and Dr Edwards said Smart’s distinctive vision enabled him and his audience to imagine afresh the everyday world around us.
“Smart, from his early years, developed a feeling for mystical possibilities beyond the purely visible that translated into a dreamlike, uncanny presence in his art,” they said.
“In his best works there is a precise delineation of imagery, a compression of emotion, a wry wit, a focus on composition and a theatricality.”
While art was always a passion, it was not until his 40s that he was painting full-time. Smart began his working life as a teacher and his career included stints as an art critic at The Daily Telegraph, presenter on the ABC children’s radio program The Argonauts, and a teacher at the National Art School.
Smart explored his journey to becoming an artist and the complexity of being gay in post-war Australia in his 1996 memoir, Not Quite Straight. After a life-long fascination with Europe, Smart settled in Italy with his long-term partner Ermes De Zan in the 1970s but continued to return regularly to Australia.
Initially due to open in October but delayed due to the pandemic, the exhibition – only on show in Kamberri/Canberra – will have an extended season from 11 December 2021 to 15 May 2022. Audiences can take advantage of the longer run with $39 season tickets available to National Gallery of Australia Members.
National Gallery of Australia, Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country, Parkes Place East, Parkes (Canberra)
Exhibition: 11 December – 15 May 2022
Entry Fees apply
For more information, visit: www.nga.gov.au for details.
Image: Jeffrey Smart, Wallaroo, 1951, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1959, © The Estate of Jeffrey Smart, courtesy of Philip Bacon Galleries.