'... it has been one long tragedy-track over scorched earth ... a nightmare journey through a day-long dust storm ... The sky appears leaden, like a snow sky in Europe, or is crossed by great bands of black, red and grey ... Dead trees, a tragic number, loom through the murk in a variety of fantastic shapes.'
- Keith Newman 1944
A series of dry seasons culminated in a year of severe drought, the worst on record, in western New South Wales in 1944. Towards the end of the year the Sydney Morning Herald commissioned Drysdale to accompany reporter Keith Newman and a photographer to cover the story. During their journey they camped one night at Lake Mungo in the remote west of the state, where an extensive sand dune called 'The Walls of China' was located.
Publication of Drysdale's drawings led to recognition of his great skill as a draughtsman, while his extraordinary experience also inspired a series of paintings. In 'Walls of China', perhaps the most spectacular work in this drought series, Drysdale transformed elements of the natural landscape into iconic symbols, marking the emergence of his mature vision of Australia as a timeless continent.
The Walls of China
The Walls of China (Gol Gol)
Walls of China Gol Gol
oil on hardboard
75.9 x 101.0 cm board; 95.0 x 121.1 x 5.2 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed l.r. corner, black oil "Russell Drysdale". Not dated.
© Russell Drysdale Estate
Shown in 16 exhibitions
Russell Drysdale (1945), Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 21 Nov 1945–03 Dec 1945
100 years of Australian painting (1948), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 Apr 1948–17 May 1948
Twelve Australian Artists:
- Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, Bath 05 Sep 1953–26 Sep 1953
- City of Bradford Art Gallery, Bradford 03 Oct 1953–24 Oct 1953
- Derby Art Gallery, Derby 05 Dec 1953–26 Dec 1953
- City Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol, Bristol 02 Jan 1954–23 Jan 1954
- City of Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, Northern Ireland 30 Jan 1954–20 Feb 1954
- New Burlington Galleries, London 12 Jul 1954–22 Aug 1954
Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d'Arte Venice, 1954, Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Venice, 19 Jun 1954–Oct 1954
Russell Drysdale: a retrospective exhibition of paintings from 1937 to 1960, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 05 Oct 1960–06 Nov 1960
Russell Drysdale: A retrospective exhibition; paintings 1937-1960 (Queensland Art Gallery), Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane, 22 Apr 1961–28 May 1961
Russell Drysdale (Adelaide 1964), John Martin's Auditorium, 04 Mar 1964–21 Mar 1964
The Australian Landscape 1802-1975:
1940-1965: The heroic years of Australian painting:
- Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne 02 Apr 1977–20 Apr 1977
- Sale Regional Art Gallery, Australia 29 Apr 1977–20 May 1977
- Art Gallery of Ballarat, Ballarat 27 May 1977–17 Jun 1977
- Warrnambool Art Gallery, Warrnambool 24 Jun 1977–15 Jul 1977
- Shepparton Art Museum, Australia 22 Jul 1977–08 Aug 1977
- Hamilton Art Gallery, Hamilton 12 Aug 1977–02 Sep 1977
- Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria 16 Sep 1977–07 Oct 1977
- Mildura Arts Centre, Mildura 14 Oct 1977–04 Nov 1977
- Benalla Art Gallery, Australia 11 Nov 1977–02 Dec 1977
- Mornington Peninsula Arts Centre 09 Dec 1977–20 Jan 1978
- Ararat Gallery, Ararat 27 Jan 1978–17 Feb 1978
- Geelong Art Gallery 24 Feb 1978–17 Mar 1978
- La Trobe Regional Gallery, Morwell 24 Mar 1978–14 Apr 1978
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
Twentieth century Australian masterworks from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Fred Williams Pilbara series from the collection of CRA Limited, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, 04 Oct 1985–06 Nov 1985
Two hundred years of Australian painting : Nature, people and art in the southern continent:
Russell Drysdale 1912-1981:
- National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne 19 Dec 1997–09 Mar 1998
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 27 Mar 1998–10 May 1998
- Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane 18 May 1998–28 Jun 1998
- Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin 20 Jul 1998–30 Aug 1998
- Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart 23 Sep 1998–15 Nov 1998
Australian icons: twenty artists from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Aug 2000–03 Dec 2000
Australian modern masterpieces from the Art Gallery of New South Wales:
Russell Drysdale: defining the modern Australian landscape, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, 19 Oct 2013–09 Feb 2014
Referenced in 43 publications
Art Gallery of New South Wales, A selection of eighty-two reproductions mainly from the Australian collection and including examples from the British, French and Dutch [Art Gallery of New South Wales]., Sydney, 1959. plate no. 38
Tim Bonyhady, Art Monthly Australia, `Disturbing the Dead', pg. 9-12, Canberra, Nov 1997, 9 (illus.) 9-12.
Helen Campbell, Look, 'Drysdale textile design... and other surprising 'rediscoveries'', pg. 30, Sydney, Aug 2014, 30.
Helen Campbell, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Out of Sydney: city and hinterlands', pg. 185-186, Sydney, 2000, 201 (colour illus.), 300.
Helen Campbell, Look, 'Russell Drysdale 1912-1981', pg. 14-15, Heidelberg, Apr 1998, 15 (colour illus.).
Gary Catalano, An intimate Australia: The landscape & recent Australian art, 'The figure of Russell Drysdale', pg. 12-29, Sydney, 1985, 18-19, 30 (colour illus.), 31.
Joan Chambers and Sophia Watson, Art in the sun, 'Russell Drysdale 1912-1981', pg. 36, Brookvale, 2000, 36 (colour illus.).
Rob Ditessa', Artist's palette, 'Icons on show', pg. 54-59, Sydney, 2000, 58 (colour illus.).
Christine Dixon and Terry Smith, Aspects of Australian figurative painting 1942-1962: dreams, fears and desires, 'Discussion of the images', pg. 71-90, Sydney, 1984, 68 (illus.) ,77, 93. plate no. 53; titled 'Walls of China, Gol, Gol'
Russell Drysdale, The paintings of Russell Drysdale: reproducing fifteen plates in colour with an essay by Joseph Burke, 'List of works and owners, 1951', pg.47-52, Sydney, 1951, 50. titled 'Walls of China, Gol Gol'
Geoffrey Dutton, Russell Drysdale, London, 1964, 127 (illus.), 187. plate no. 37; titled 'Walls of China, Gol-Gol'
James Gleeson, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Russell Drysdale', pg. 39-43, Sydney, Oct 1960, 41 (illus.). titled 'Walls of China, Gol Gol'
Peter Gotting, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'To great and absent friends', pg. 14, Sydney, 01 Aug 2000, 14 (illus.).
Anne Gray, Hendrik Kolenberg and Tim Bonyhady, Russell Drysdale, Perth, 1999, 17.
Richard Haese, Rebels and precursors : the revolutionary years of Australian art, 'Monetary Rewards', pg. 229-233, Ringwood, 1981, 231, 264.
Roslynn Haynes, Seeking the Centre, 'Geography is never innocent: or, what the explorers wrote in the landscape', pg. 58-84, Cambridge, 1998, 81-81 (colour illus.), 168.
Christopher Heathcote, Russell Drysdale: defining the modern Australian landscape, 'Defining the modern Australian landscape', pg. 9-32, Kent Town, 2013, 20 (colour illus.), 53 (colour illus.), 84.
Robert Hughes, The art of Australia, 'The stylists 1939-50', pg. 169-196, Melbourne, 1970, 195, 324. titled 'The Walls of China, Gol Gol'
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Painting and Sculpture', pg. 102-181, Sydney, 1999, 150 (colour illus.).
Dugald Jellie, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Dust to dusk', pg. 1,4., Sydney, 19 Aug 2006-20 Aug 2006. Travel Section of Weekend Edition, pg. 1, 4.
Lou Klepac, The life and work of Russell Drysdale, 'Drought journey', pg. 79-86, Kensington, 1983, 81, 254 (colour illus.), 255 (colour illus.), 366. plate no. 67 & 68; Note: Plate no. 68 is a detail of this work and is printed on pg. 255.; titled 'Walls of China, Gol Gol'
Lou Klepac, Australian painters of the twentieth century, 'Russell Drysdale', pg. 88-99, Sydney, 2000, 91 (colour illus.).
NAKADA Masaaki (Editor), Dômo - Australian Living Handbook, Japan, 1999, 17 (colour illus.). plate no. 4
Patrick McCaughey, Australian Art Review, 'Russell Drysdale 1912-81', pg. 114-117, Rozelle, 1982, cover (colour illus., detail), 115 (colour illus.).
Ewen McDonald, The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 8, 52 (colour illus.).
Sandra McGrath and John Olsen, The artist & the desert, Sydney, 1981, 45 (colour illus.). titled 'The Walls of China, Gol Gol'
Greg McKeon (Editor), Pasture degredation and recovery in Australia's rangelands: learning from history, 'Degradation and recovery episodes in Australia's rangelands: An anthology', pg. 87-172, Queensland, 2004, 121 (colour illus.). plate 2.4
Humphrey McQueen, Art Monthly Australia, 'Positions vacant', pg. 21-23, Canberra, Sep 2000, 22. review of 'Australian icons' exhibition
Hal Missingham, They kill you in the end, 'Trustees', pg. 24-44, Sydney, 1973, 28, 101.
Belinda Oxley, Read-to-go Art Picture pack, Glebe, 2000, card no. 5 (colour illus.).
Barry Pearce and Patrick McCaughey, Twentieth century Australian masterworks from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Fred Williams Pilbara Series, Tokyo, 1985, 34 (colour illus.). cat.no. 17
Barry Pearce, Two hundred years of Australian painting: nature, people and art in the southern continent, 'Introduction', pg.17-23 (in Japanese), Tokyo, 1992, 22, 163 (colour illus.), 183. cat.no. 106
Sarah Scott, Seize the day: exhibitions, Australia and the world, 'A colonial legacy: Australian painting at the Tate Gallery, London, 1963', pg. 19.1-19.22., Clayton, 2008, 19.3.
Bernard Smith, 100 years of Australian painting, 'Foreword', pg. 2-4, Sydney, 1948, 10. cat.no. 60; titled 'The Walls of China'
Geoffrey Smith, Russell Drysdale 1912-1981, Melbourne, 1997, 22, 88, 89 (colour illus.). cat.no. 28
Sotheby's Australia, Sotheby's Melbourne: important Australian art (5 May 2009), Melbourne, 2009, 14. RELATED WORK: 'Small Landscape' 1945, lot 207
The Creative School Supply Company, Landscapes: 1788-21st Century Australian, Box Hill, 2004?, (colour illus.). card no. 6
Daniel Thomas and Paul Haefliger, Russell Drysdale; a retrospective exhibition of paintings from 1937 to 1960, Sydney, 1960, 56. cat.no. 42; titled 'Walls of China, Gol Gol'
David Thomas, Deutscher and Hackett fine art auction: Melbourne 29 August 2012, 'Works from the Wesfarmers collection of Australian art part 1: lots 1-23’, pg. 54-55, Melbourne, 2012, 54.
Laurence Thomas, Twelve Australian artists, 'Introduction', pg. 6-10, London, 1953, 2 (illus.), 14. cat.no. 20
Editor Unknown, Condé Nast traveller : Australia, 'Sign of the times', Greenwich, Jan 2008, 87 (colour illus.). Travel article.
Author Unknown, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Australia, 1994, 306 (illus.).
Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 21 Nov 1945, 9.