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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The chase, 1952

Charles Blackman

tempera on masonite (support: 75.0 cm x 99.5 cm)
Image not available (NC)

Charles Blackman OBE (1928-2018), artist, was brought up by a single mother, left school early and worked for the Sydney Sun while studying by night at the East Sydney Technical School. After a few years’ drifting between Sydney and Brisbane, picking fruit to make a living, he connected with Barbara Patterson, a poet, who introduced him to literature. They moved to Melbourne, and married in 1951. She was legally blind; supported by her pension, and her earnings from modelling for artists, Blackman began to paint in earnest. With the support of art patrons John and Sunday Reed, he began to produce his signature series of paintings, incorporating schoolgirls with flowers, and Alice in Wonderland scenes with Barbara as his muse. The chase is one of several self portraits Blackman painted in Melbourne in the early 1950s, when he was working in the couple’s humble home alone. Felicity St John Moore, an authority on the artist’s work, describes the painting’s imagery of living and dead flowers as an ‘either-or choice between creation and spiritual death’, observing that the idea of clear choices facing a person at the moment of loss of adolescence – common to both Rimbaud and Gide – reflects Blackman’s intense interest in French literature at this time. Blackman and John Brack were amongst the seven artists who showed in the watershed ‘Antipodeans’ exhibition in Melbourne in 1959, asserting the importance of the figure in art in defiance of advancing American abstract expressionism. Having lived in London and Paris for some years in the 1960s, and separating civilly from Barbara in the late 1970s, Blackman proceeded to series of paintings of cats and gardens, becoming one of very few Australian artists to live to see one of his paintings sell for more than a million dollars.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Rob and Paula McLean 2011
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2011.48

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Charles Blackman (age 24 in 1952)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Big bouquet of Blackmans

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2013

Dr. Sarah Engledow explores the context surrounding Charles Blackman's portrait of Judith Wright, Jack McKinney and their daughter Meredith.

Interview with Meredith McKinney video: 2 minutes
Interview with Meredith McKinney video: 2 minutes
Interview with Meredith McKinney video: 2 minutes
Interview with Meredith McKinney video: 2 minutes

The Family

by Charles Blackman

Portrait story

Meredith McKinney, subject of Charles Blackman's 'The Family', recounts memories from her childhood and the creation of the portrait.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.