born New Zealand 1887
arrived Australia 1912, died, 1971
Interior: Thea Proctor’s sitting room, 1965
oil on composition board
61.0 x 50.5 cm
inscribed lower right: R Wakelin ‘65
Macquarie Gallery 40th anniversary exhibition, Easter 1965, [as Interior].
Roland Wakelin retrospective, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Newcastle City Art Gallery, April-May 1967, catalogue no.91.
Roland Wakelin retrospective, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1967.
In his early 30s in the years following World War 1 Roland Wakelin was, like several other artists and musicians, fascinated by colour music. The possibility of establishing an analogy between the colours of the spectrum and notes on a musical scale had first been explored in early twentieth century Russia by the composer Alexander Scriabin and the painter Wassily Kandinsky. In England the painter and critic Roger Fry was attracted to the idea, and in Australia Roy de Maistre and Roland Wakelin were its principal exponents.
In 1919 de Maistre and Wakelin mounted a joint exhibition titled Colour in art, which included their paintings as well as rooms decorated by de Maistre titled Blue Green Major and Yellow Green Minor. De Maistre’s Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor, 1919, in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, is thought to be the only surviving painting from this exhibition. While sent-up as ‘pictures you could whistle’, this exhibition was the first in Australia devoted to abstraction.
Throughout his life, Wakelin most frequently painted familiar landscapes in and around Sydney, and places that he visited, sometimes on European holidays. Still life paintings and intimate scenes depicting his wife, Estelle, son, Roland and daughter, Judith, at the beach or engaged in domestic activity are among his most charming. While devoted to realism, Wakelin remained interested in the effects of light and changing colour throughout his life. In some late paintings, such as Interior: Thea Proctor’s sitting room, 1965, intense colour is inseparable from the subject.
In Sydney’s small artistic circle Wakelin mixed and went on painting excursions with Douglas Dundas, Lloyd Rees, and Grace Cossington Smith, who had a collection of his paintings. Thea Proctor, an influential figure in Sydney’s art world, was undoubtedly a friend and Interior: Thea Proctor’s sitting room is a homage to her taste. The viewer stands in shadow looking out through brilliant green doors to a balcony flooded with bright sunlight. A vase of marigolds on an orange table cloth and the red striped chair cushion are all employed to make Wakelin’s painting a late affirmation of his continued belief in the importance of colour in twentieth century art. The pale landscape seen beyond the balcony is been kept at bay by the castellation of pot plants. The colours of the interior created by Proctor and painted by Wakelin are their greatest concern.
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