The breakfast table
1920 - 11 Feb 1999
'The breakfast table' by John Brack depicts the traces of a family's morning meal before the cutlery and plates have been cleared away. It captures a simple moment of domesticity, breaking with the pictorial and thematic conventions of the still-life genre. The painting suggests the interactions and traits of the sitters invisible to us. Empty glasses, cups and mugs remain on the table surrounded by plates with scattered crumbs, bottles, knives and jars of fruit conserve.
Brack's palette is arresting: the illuminated, almost fluorescent yellow of the table top contrasts the deep shadows cast by the items on it. He has arranged the objects in an almost geometric pattern, so that objects sit in relation to one another and are intrinsic to the success of the overall composition.
The Breakfast Table
The Laid Table
oil on canvas
122.2 x 68.7 x 2.2 cm stretcher; 138.2 x 84.6 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r., dark green oil "John/ Brack 58".
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation and the Australian Masterpiece Fund, including the following major donors: Geoff Ainsworth AM, Andrew & Cathy Cameron, Vicki & Paul Clitheroe AM, Rowena Danziger AM & Ken Coles AM, Chris & Judy Fullerton, Kiera Grant, Alexandra Joel & Philip Mason, John Sharpe & Claire Armstrong, The Lowy Foundation, Robyn Martin-Weber, Samantha Meers, Kerr & Judith Neilson, Mark & Louise Nelson, John Schaeffer AO & Bettina Dalton, Denyse Spice, Georgie Taylor, Max & Nola Tegal, Alenka Tindale, Eleonora & Michael Triguboff, Peter Weiss AO, Ray Wilson OAM, Women’s Art Group 2013
Not on display
© Helen Brack
Where the work was made
Shown in 4 exhibitions
First anniversary exhibition (1958), Clune Galleries, Sydney, 13 Aug 1958–23 Aug 1958
John Brack: a retrospective exhibition (1987-1988), National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne, 10 Dec 1987–31 Jan 1988
Fine Australian paintings including Dr John L. Raven collection of important colonial paintings, Sotheby's Gallery Melbourne, Armadale, 17 Apr 1989–17 Apr 1989
Fine Australian paintings, Sotheby's Gallery Melbourne, Armadale, 08 Apr 1990–08 Apr 1990
Referenced in 24 publications
Sarah Adams., www.artshub.com.au, 'Record-breaking auction reaps $19m', Australia, 27 Jun 2013, n.pag.. viewed 27.06.2013, http://au.artshub.com/au/news-article/news/visual-arts/record-breaking-auction-reaps-19-dollarsm-195816
Michaela Boland, Weekend Australian, 'Master cards', pg. 9, Sydney, 07 Sep 2013, 9. indirect reference to the artwork
Michael Brand, Look, 'From the Gallery director', pg. 11, Sydney, Sep 2013, 11.
Nicole Chettle., www.abc.net.au, 'Grundy collection of Australian art sets auction record', Australia, 28 Jun 2013, n.pag.. viewed 27.06.2013, http://www.afr.com/p/national/arts_saleroom/grundy_art_auction_sets_record_9J3drW0Sr9lDPtU4qGcf6K
Hal Crawford (Editor in Chief), ninemsn.com.au, 'Art Gallery NSW snaps up Grundy works', Sydney, 01 Jul 2013, n.pag.. viewed 01.07.2013, http://news.ninemsn.com.au/entertainment/2013/07/01/14/46/art-gallery-nsw-snaps-up-grundy-works
John Cruthers, Important Australian art from the collection of Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy, 'Introduction', pg. 10-11, Sydney, 2013, 11, 152, 153 (colour illus.), 154. lot no. 45; estimated price $500,000-700,000.
Alexandra Djurichkovic., Australian art collector online, 'AGNSW reveals major new Australian acquisitions', Sydney, 03 Jul 2013, n.pag.. viewed 03.07.2013, http://www.artcollector.net.au/AGNSWrevealsnewAustralianacquisitions
Steve Dow, smh.com.au, 'Gallery's $3.85m painting splurge causes a few gasps', pg. 20, Sydney, 02 Jul 2013, 20 (colour illus.). photograph of work on display
Steve Dow., smh.com.au, 'Gasps as Art Gallery of NSW shells out millions on Brack', Sydney, 01 Jul 2013, n.pag. (colour illus.). viewed 01.07.2013, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/gasps-as-art-gallery-of-nsw-shells-out-millions-on-brack-20130701-2p6r2.html
Kirsty Grant, John Brack, 'Human nature: the art of John Brack', pg. 87-136, Melbourne, 2009, 106.
Sasha Grishin AM, The art of John Brack - Volume 2, 'Oil paintings', pg. 2-40, Australia, 1990, 12, 106 (illus.). cat.no. 84
Terry Ingham., www.aasd.com.au, 'AGNSW makes big breakfast of Grundy', Armadale, 01 Jul 2013, n.pag. (colour illus.). viewed 02.07.2013, http://www.aasd.com.au/index.cfm/news/384-agnsw-makes-big-breakfast-of-grundy/
Robert Lindsay, John Brack: a retrospective exhibition, 'Biographical and exhibition notes', pg. 115-137, Melbourne, 1987, 120, 139. titled 'The Breakfast Table'; cat.no. 40
Lisa-Marie Murphy, Look, 'Building the Gallery's collection', pg. 33-34, Sydney, Mar 2015, 33 (colour illus.).
Lara Nicholls, In a new light: the art collection of Trinity College, The University of Melbourne, 'The beginnings of a collection', pg. 10-11, Parkville, 2001, 11.
Jeni Porter (Editor in Chief), The Australian Financial Review, 'Art Gallery of NSW gets back in the Brack', Melbourne, 04 Jul 2013, 18. author unknown
Sotheby's Gallery Melbourne (Compilator), Sotheby's: fine Australian paintings, Woollahra, 1990, n.pag. (colour illus.). titled 'Breakfast table'; lot no. 123; estimated price $90,000/110,000
Sotheby's Gallery Melbourne (Compilator), Sotheby's: fine Australian paintings including Dr John L. Raven Collection of important colonial paintings, Melbourne, 1989, n.pag. (colour illus.). titled 'Breakfast table'; lot no. 470; estimated price $100,000/130,000
Katrina Strickland, The Australian Financial Review, 'Public galleries go for Grundys', pg. 3, Melbourne, 29 Jun 2013-30 Jun 2013, 3.
Katrina Strickland., www.afr.com, 'Grundy art auction sets $19.2m record', Melbourne, 27 Jun 2013, n.pag.. viewed 27.06.2013, http://www.afr.com/p/national/arts_saleroom/grundy_art_auction_sets_record_9J3drW0Sr9lDPtU4qGcf6K
Wayne Tunnicliffe, Look, 'John Brack: two superb new acquisitions', pg. 30-31, Sydney, Dec 2013-Jan 2014, 30, 31 (colour illus.).
University of Melbourne (Compilator), University of Melbourne: catalogue of works of art, 'Oil paintings', pg. 1-37, Carlton, 1971, 3. titled 'The laid table'; cat.no. T27
Tammy Weller., www.artshub.com.au, 'Art Gallery of NSW acquires new Australian works', Australia, 02 Jul 2013, n.pag.. viewed 04.07.2013, http://au.artshub.com/au/news-article/news/arts/art-gallery-of-nsw-acquires-new-australian-works-195872
Unknown and Michael Brand, Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation: Celebrating 30 years of art acquisitions, Sydney, 2015, 40 (colour illus.).