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An image of Walls of China by Russell Drysdale
Alternate image of Walls of China by Russell Drysdale Alternate image of Walls of China by Russell Drysdale Alternate image of Walls of China by Russell Drysdale
Alternate image of Walls of China by Russell Drysdale

Russell Drysdale

(England, Australia 07 Feb 1912 – 29 Jun 1981)

Walls of China
Other titles:
The Walls of China
The Walls of China (Gol Gol)
Walls of China Gol Gol
Media category
Materials used
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.
Purchased 1945
Accession number
© Russell Drysdale Estate
20th & 21st c Australian art
Further information

'... 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.

Bibliography (43)

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, Acton, Nov 1997, 9 (illus.) 9-12.

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, 'Drysdale textile design... and other surprising 'rediscoveries'', pg. 30, Newtown, Aug 2014, 30.

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, Ringwood, 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, Australian painters of the twentieth century, 'Russell Drysdale', pg. 88-99, Roseville, 2000, 91 (colour illus.).

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'

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, Acton, 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, 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. 106

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.). 17

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. 60; titled 'The Walls of China'

Geoffrey Smith, Russell Drysdale 1912-1981, Melbourne, 1997, 22, 88, 89 (colour illus.). 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. 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. 20

Author Unknown, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Australia, 1994, 306 (illus.).

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Editor Unknown, Condé Nast traveller : Australia, 'Sign of the times', Greenwich, Jan 2008, 87 (colour illus.). Travel article.

Exhibition history (16)

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:

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:

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:

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