Grishin, Sasha: Arthur Streeton: The art of war at the National Gallery of Australia combines beauty and barbarity

Sasha Grishin

Arthur Streeton: The art of war at the National Gallery of Australia combines beauty and barbarity’, Canberra Times, 10 January 2018

Review of an exhibition at the National Gallery, Canberra, until 29 April, just after Anzac Day. Reminds holiday visitors to Canberra and the Gallery, if they needed reminding, that Australia’s war heritage and memories are not found just in that combined cathedral and theme park, the Australian War Memorial, across the lake. Our references to the National Library’s Keepsakes exhibition of late 2014, Peter Stanley’s book showcasing the National Library’s Great War material, and two shows at the National Portrait Gallery and the Hall Gallery, provide further evidence for this point.

And Streeton’s war was a little different, anyway.

Streeton [says Grishin] was an unconventional war artist; he was less concerned with the heroics of the battlefront or the movement of armies and battleline strategies, but was fascinated by the aftermath of battle and the scars that it inevitably leaves on the landscape and buildings as well as on peopleĀ  …

Streeton in his war art has the genius for the understated, where some grim detail awaits the viewer like a hidden emotional assassin. We may be seduced by the wonderfully painted expanses of barbed wire and only in the distance catch a glimpse of the dark shapes of inmates, or see the ruins of some building full of luminosity and later notice papers scattered on the floor of a life extinguished.

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