Skip to content


James Gleeson

(Australia 21 Nov 1915 – 20 Oct 2008)

(Studies for monumental head)
Place of origin
SydneyNew South WalesAustralia
Media category
Materials used
pen and sienna ink

23.8 x 37.1 cm sheet

Gift of Frank O'Keefe 1993
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

Gleeson's love of music was formed in his childhood, the German romantic composer Richard Wagner (1813-83) being a favourite. Wagner's personal philosophy of art placed equal emphasis on the role of the conscious and subconscious mind. his opera 'Tristan and Isolde' 1856-59 is set in the middle ages and tells the story of the doomed love of Cornish knight Tristan and Irish princess Isolde.

'Sea wrack involving the heads of Tristan and Isolde' was painted in London and is one of Gleeson's most successful and complex early works - a synthesis of motifs to which Gleeson returned on many occasions, such as the column of multi-faced heads and skulls, fire burning under the night sky and bound figures. The heads of Tristan and Isolde are entwined with hair and flanked by tribal masks.

Hendrik Kolenberg and Anne Ryan, 'James Gleeson: drawings for paintings', Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2003, pg. 43.

Bibliography (1)

Hendrik Kolenberg and Anne Ryan, James Gleeson: drawings for paintings, Sydney, 2003, 43. General reference to all sketches for the painting 'Sea wrack involving the heads of Tristan and Isolde'.