Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information




Australian art

View More:


Man, wife and mother-in-law in street



Danila Vassilieff


1897 - 1958


When the nomadic Russian-born Danila Vassilieff (1897-1958) arrived in Melbourne in 1937, his work came as a revelation to many of the generation of experimental artists, including Arthur Boyd, Joy Hester and Sidney Nolan, who were exploring new avenues for their art at this time.

Vassilieff had been a professional painter for over a decade when he arrived in Melbourne, but his notion of the importance of an untutored artistic expression, his style of rapid brushwork and sparsely painted surfaces appealed to younger artists as radical. As did his choice of subjects, painted in the streets and laneways of Melbourne’s inner city, by capturing moments of everyday working class life, its movement, poverty and the graffitied, decaying environments in a style that itself appears akin to a form of street art.

'Man, wife and mother-in-law in street' 1937 is a portrait of Vassilieff’s landlord and family in Fitzroy. The figures appear formally posed, slightly awkward, as if waiting to be photographed. But any stiffness to the figures is countered by the dynamics of graffiti on the wall against which they stand, which instils a sense of the pulsating life-forces of the streets. Vassilieff’s loose, sketch-like line work and his bare palette aligns features of the figures’ dress and their outlines to their backdrop, suggesting a connection to their surrounds. Vassilieff believed in painting from the realities of life, but equally in extracting a sense of the vital undercurrents of the city in his works. Equipped with such ideals, he created his own form of visual urban poetry from the poverty-stricken Melbourne streets in which he painted.




Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas


47.0 x 52.5 cm sight; 62.5 x 69.1 x 3.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed u.r. corner, black oil "Vassilieff". Not dated.


Gift of Adrienne Allen 2019


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Danila Vassilieff

Works in the collection


Shown in 7 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 8 publications


Amanda Finch, City streets and 'real' people, Chippendale, Oct 1985, n.pag (colour illus.).

Joseph Brown Gallery, Danila Vassilieff, 28th May - 14th June, 1973, Melbourne, 1973, n.pag.. cat. no 19

Macquarie Galleries, Watercolours and Oil Paintings by Danila Vassilieff (1898-1958), Sydney, 1973, n.pag.. cat. no 33

Felicity St John Moore, Classical modernism: the George Bell circle, 'The visitors', pg. 24-33, Melbourne, 1992, 31 (colour illus.), 132. 64

John Moses, A Cossack who bestode the Australian art world, Sydney, 18 Oct 1985, n.pag.. Newspaper review of the 1985-86 retrospective touring exhibitions. The article does not cite the work directly, but refers to his time spent in Fitzroy, Victora as he "painted landlords to pay his rent".

Felicity St John Moore, Vassilieff and his art, Melbourne, 1982, 39 (colour illus.).

Felicity St John Moore, Vassilieff: a retrospective exhibition of paintings, sculptures and watercolours, 'Catalogue', pg.14-35, Bulleen, 1985, 16. cat. no 16

Robin Wallace-Crabbe, A face in the crowd : National Portrait Gallery, 'Introducton Essay', pg.2-6, Canberra, 1997, 4, 8.