The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

HO­RACE Tren­erry is not one of the more fa­mil­iar names in mod­ern Aus­tralian paint­ing. Ca­sual vis­i­tors to pub­lic art col­lec­tions may re­call him, if at all, as the au­thor of pale, rather bleached land­scapes in opaque chalky paint with a dis­tinctly blue cast.

The con­trast with his older South Aus­tralian con­tem­po­rary and ac­quain­tance Hans Hey­sen, who be­came one of the leg­endary fig­ures of Aus­tralian art, could not be more strik­ing. Al­though highly able, Tren­erry ( born in Ade­laide in 1899) did not have Hey­sen’s spec­tac­u­lar tal­ent and flu­ency, nor was he given the same op­por­tu­ni­ties to travel and study abroad; in­deed he only left Ade­laide for a short stay in Syd­ney in 1922-23, when he met the cel­e­brated land­scape painter Elioth Gruner.

Hey­sen was pre­co­ciously bril­liant; but he also had a more in­tan­gi­ble qual­ity that is vi­tal if an artist is to achieve sig­nif­i­cance, and that is im­per­son­al­ity. Per­sonal and in­ti­mate feel­ings are a nec­es­sary start­ing-point in the artis­tic process, but they must be tran­scended as the in­di­vid­ual recog­nises the ex­is­tence of a world be­yond the bounds of the self, and be­comes at­tuned to the feel­ings and ex­pe­ri­ences of other men and women, con­tem­po­raries as well as pre­de­ces­sors. Hey­sen, as Re­becca An­drews’s sur­vey at the Art Gallery of South Aus­tralia demon­strates ( it closes to­mor­row be­fore open­ing at the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula Re­gional Gallery in April), was ex­cep­tion­ally at­tuned to the na­tional mood of his time.

Tren­erry, if any­thing, seems to have re­treated into idio­syn­crasy with age, ex­ac­er­bated by in­creas­ing ill­ness. He suf­fered from the con­gen­i­tal neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease Hunt­ing­ton’s chorea, whose symp­toms in­clude fail­ing co-or­di­na­tion and con­trol over vol­un­tary move­ment, so that suf­fer­ers are some­times mis­tak­enly thought to be drunk. Some loss of men­tal fac­ul­ties even­tu­ally fol­lows. When the young Jef­frey Smart met Tren­erry af­ter World War II ( as he re­calls in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Not Quite Straight ) the older man was liv­ing an im­pov­er­ished, lonely and ec­cen­tric life on the coast at Port Wil­lunga. He moved into the Ade­laide Home for In­cur­ables in 1951, where years later he died in ob­scu­rity.

It would have been dif­fi­cult for any­one meet­ing Tren­erry in mid­dle age to imag­ine that 20 years ear­lier he had been suc­cess­ful and pop­u­lar, even glam­orous, de­spite his mod­est ori­gins as the son of a butcher; but we can gain a more rounded pic­ture of the artist from a small but im­por­tant ex­hi­bi­tion at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Al­though ti­tled The Late Land­scape Paint­ings of Ho­race Tren­erry, the se­lec­tion in­cludes a num­ber of good ear­lier works. A new study by Barry Pearce is forth­com­ing, but un­for­tu­nately will not ap­pear un­til later in the year. Nor does the ex­hi­bi­tion have a cat­a­logue, al­though the im­ages can be viewed on the gallery web­site. The only un­sat­is­fac­tory thing about this vir­tual ex­hi­bi­tion is that the works are in­ex­pli­ca­bly not in chrono­log­i­cal or­der: start­ing with the 1930s, it goes back to the ’ 20s be­fore re­turn­ing to the ’ 30s and then on to the ’ 40s.

The ear­li­est pic­tures be­long to Tren­erry’s stay in Syd­ney in 1922-23, and of th­ese the finest is Boat on the Hawkes­bury : it is a com­po­si­tion that in many ways be­longs to the end of the Hei­del­berg tra­di­tion, and the sub­ject, two young women in a row­ing boat in early morn­ing light, could have been painted 10 or 20 years ear­lier in the Ed­war­dian pe­riod. For an artist in his early 20s, the pic­ture has poise and com­po­si­tional grav­ity as well as del­i­cacy of touch. Tren­erry is es­pe­cially sen­si­tive to qual­i­ties of light and shade, to cre­ate a sense of depth and sculp­tural vol­ume in the back­ground hills, and to evoke mood.

Af­ter his re­turn to South Aus­tralia in 1923, Tren­erry moved to the vil­lage of Wood­side in the Ade­laide Hills, and the next decade or so was the most pros­per­ous and suc­cess­ful pe­riod of his life. The pic­tures are small plein-air works, painted in a quick and lively man­ner, and it is not sur­pris­ing that his ex­hi­bi­tions sold well.

The artist cap­tures the char­ac­ter and mood of places but the tone is unas­sum­ing. Land­scape with Hill and Cat­tle ( 1927), for ex­am­ple, has a few cows graz­ing in the mid­dle ground while a farm­house is perched on the hill in the back­ground. Fences and a dirt path help to lead the eye into the dis­tance.

The ef­fect is at once pic­turesque and nat­u­ral, but makes no claims to grandeur of com­po­si­tional

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.