Although he personally never experienced poverty during the Depression, Counihan lived for a year on the dole when he was twenty and depicted the life of the unemployed in an exhibition of drawings held in 1934. Co-founder of the Workers Art Club with Jack Maughan and Nutter Buzzacott, he joined the Young Communist League in 1931, and joined forces with Yosl Bergner and Vic O’Connor in forming the social realist faction of the Contemporary Art Society in 1942, fired by communist ideology and concerned with social injustice and the condition of man. In 1946 he exhibited with O’Connor and Bergner in Three Realist Artists at Myers Gallery.
'In the waiting room' 1943, painted when Counihan was recuperating from tuberculosis, reveals an affinity with the German artist Kathe Kollwitz as well as other European artists, including Honoré Daumier, Francisco Goya and Ernst Barlach.
Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2001
oil on hardboard
62.0 x 43.5 cm board; 77.5 x 59.2 x 5.0 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed l.l. corner, black oil "COUNIHAN". Signed and dated c. verso, black oil ".../ ... NOEL COUNIHAN/ .../ 1943/ ...".
© Estate of Noel Counihan
Shown in 4 exhibitions
Contemporary Art Society Sixth Annual Exhibition (1944), Vickery's Galleries, Sydney, 26 Jun 1944–14 Jul 1944
Three years on: acquisitions 1978-81, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Oct 1981–01 Dec 1981
Aspects of Australian Figurative Painting 1942-1962: Dreams, Fears and Desires (The 5th Biennale of Sydney), S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 11 Apr 1984–17 Jun 1984
Angry Penguins and Realist Painting in Melbourne in the 1940s:
Referenced in 12 publications
Noel Counihan, Noel Counihan: paintings drawings prints 1943 to 1973, Melbourne, 1973, 7. cat.no. 2, Collection: Dr and Mrs I.C. McDonald
Max Dimmack, Noel Counihan, Melbourne, 1974, (colour illus.). plate no. 75a
Terry Ingram, The Australian financial review, 'Australian art market goes in to hard labour', pg. 44, 47., Sydney, 21 Nov 1980, 44 (illus.), 47.
Craig Lilienthal, Journal of the Medical Defence Union, Sydney, 1994, cover (illus.).
Janet McKenzie, Noel Counihan, Kenthurst, 1986, 12 (illus.), 13.
Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 24.
Barry Pearce, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Australian Art', pg. 5-26, Sydney, 1981, 5 (colour illus.), 6, 11. cat.no. 11
Barrett Reid, Bernard William Smith, Janine Burke, Charles Merewether, Christine Dixon and Max Harris, Angry Penguins and Realist Painting in Melbourne in the 1940s, London, 1988, 173. cat.no. 163
John Slater, Through artists' eyes: Australian suburbs and their cities 1919-1945, 'The end of certainty: victims and poverty', pg. 137-156, Melbourne, 2004, xiii, 151 (colour illus.), 153. illus.no. 127
Sydney Ure Smith (Editor), Present day art in Australia, Sydney, 1949, 31 (illus.).
Peter Ward, The Weekend Australian magazine, 'Noel Counihan: A painter of class', pg. 24-28, Sydney, 16 Oct 1993-17 Oct 1993, 27 (colour illus.).
Natalie Wilson, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Out of Melbourne: realisms and mythologies', pg. 163-164, Sydney, 2000, 164, 168, 169 (colour illus.), 300.