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Australian art

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The miraculous draught of fishes



John Passmore


04 Feb 1904 - 09 Oct 1984


In preparation for his retrospective, which opened only months after his death in 1984, Passmore allowed the Gallery access to hundreds of his drawings, fragments and notes, on one of which was scrawled the words:
"Where is the great masterpiece? There is no masterpiece, no answer, it is all in the search."

'The miraculous draught of fishes' is considered by many to be Passmore's most ambitious painting. It was certainly one of the largest pieces he painted following his return to Australia in 1951 after a long period in England and he entered it in the Blake Prize in 1952. The painting had its genesis in a small pen and ink sketch.

James Gleeson, writing in 1971, said:
"Paintings like 'The miraculous draught of fishes' are heavily charged with emotions that have been heightened for transmission to us through the medium of line and colour. They are compositions of extraordinary vitality and originality, though the dazzle of their virtuosity never blinds one to the disturbing, though elusive, undercurrents just below the surface of the forms."

Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2000




Media category


Materials used

oil on hardboard


122.0 x 183.0 cm

Signature & date

Signed l.r. corner, yellow oil "John Passmore". Not dated.


Gift of Joseph Brown 1989


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Passmore

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Rosemary Crumlin., O Soul O Spirit O Fire, 'Beginnings', Brisbane, 2001, not paginated. exhibition list

James Gleeson, Modern Painters 1931-1970, 1970, (colour illus.). plate no. 22; Collection: private collection

Elwyn Lynn., The Weekend Australian, 'Retrospective puts Passmore in order', Sydney, 29 Dec 1984-30 Dec 1984, page unknown.

Barry Pearce, John Passmore 1904-84, Sydney, 1984, 47 (colour illus.). 20