North Sydney, 1978
oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas
63.5 x 91.5 cm
signed lower left: JEFFREY SMART
inscribed on canvas overlap: North Sydney
De Beers Collection of Contemporary Art, London
Christie's, Australian Art, London, 26 September 2013, lot 68
Jeffrey Smart: New Paintings, The Redfern Gallery, London, June-July 1979, cat. no. 5
P. Quartermaine, Jeffrey Smart, Gryphon Books Pty Ltd, South Yarra, 1983, p.59 (illustrated), p.116 no. 733
J. McDonald, Jeffrey Smart: Paintings of the 70s and 80s, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1990, p.98, pl.22, p.99 (illustrated)
Art and Artists, August 1979, vol.14, no.4, cover illustration (detail), p.45 (illustrated)
The colours and shadows are undeniably Australian and yet North Sydney was painted in 1978 when Jeffrey Smart was already settled with his partner, Ermes De Zan (depicted in the foreground) at Posticcia Nuova in Tuscany.
Smart first met De Zan in 1973 at Justin O'Brien's house in Rome and the couple remained together until Smart's death in 2013. Friends noted their close and often highly combustible relationship with De Zan caring for Smart as his health deteriorated. Although Smart was never particularly sentimental, even towards his own artworks, the only painting to be found on the walls of his home in Tuscany in his later years was a portrait of De Zan.
Smart recorded in his memoir, Not Quite Straight: "I note that for the first few weeks Ermes was here (in Italy), we saw almost no one, and besides the profound happiness, I also recall the completely idyllic weather."
The Bayer Building, North Sydney (previously known as the MAN Building) Jeffrey Smart, The Listeners 1965, oil on canvas, 90.5 x 70.0 cm, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery
The composition of North Sydney is interesting in itself. Smart referenced what is today known as the Bayer Building in North Sydney (then known as the MAN Building, completed in 1970). The curved streetlights (still visible in the bottom of the photograph) create a vanishing point that is perfectly balanced by the Bayer Building in the left background and Ermes positioned comfortably in the sun in the right foreground.
De Zan's pose echoes that of an earlier work, The Listeners 1965 however instead of a dark and ominous background, North Sydney treats the viewer to a lighter, more reflective palette, perhaps indicating Smart's 'profound happiness' at the time.
69 John St would like to thank Stephen Rogers for his assistance with cataloguing this work.