(Objects at night)
20 Aug 1893 - 10 May 1964
"What largely interested me exterior to actual painting is the French approach to mathematics and Indian writings in poetry and philosophy….My impulse or motive in painting other than the actual pleasure of the creative process is in the belief that a Unity is not just a block, solid. It is not either parts or separate things strung together in for instance the manner of necklace….In my painting if I have achieved anything of satisfaction or revelation (it) would lie in the explorations and initiatives in a matter existing between these two poles, in and inside the Unity but always confirming to its special nature."
So wrote Godfrey Miller to Alan McCulloch in 1954, suggesting the premise of his practice as one infused by philosophy, esoteric thought systems and a mathematical ordering to explore the metaphysics of being. Miller sought to visualise a cosmic unity through the realms of material objects; to tell of the commanding geometry of the universe in the dimensions of the everyday. His dissecting abstraction, one built on a geometrical deconstruction and rebuilding of the world, became his aesthetic vehicle for unlocking the visual mystery of things.
Miller's '(Objects at night)' 1948-51 is a beautifully realised statement of Miller's complex aesthetic of inherent contradictions. The work's shimmering surface, of segmented, crystallised fractures ultimately constructs a composition of a tightly unified whole with objects sitting separately in space but also collated in their movement. While the objects refer to Cézanne's volumetric solidity, they too seem weightless in space. Despite a composition of exacting balances, all appears to be in a state of flux.
The inference of night illuminates this landscape of forms with a brilliant green glow, a colour in darkness, evoking a mystery of things that would be deflected in daylight. The work's painted white border suggests a contained, dazzling energy.
Miller is one of Australia's finest abstractionists, and a key influence on a generation of painters during the 1940s and 1950s, through both through the example of his painting practice as well as his profession as teacher at East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School). By fusing a sense of mysticism with mathematics, philosophy, poetry and aesthetics, he produced one of the most distinct oeuvres of artists of his era.
oil, pen and ink on canvas
48.0 x 52.3 x 2.0 cm stretcher
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Purchased with funds provided by the Gleeson O'Keefe Foundation 2015
© Estate of Godfrey Miller
Shown in 6 exhibitions
Sydney still life, Painters Gallery, Pyrmont, 17 Jun 1986–05 Jul 1986
Fine and decorative art (1989), David Jones' Art Gallery, Sydney, Sydney, 13 Mar 1989–19 Apr 1989
Godfrey Miller, National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne, 15 May 1996–17 Jun 1996
Australian and international pictures, including contemporary Australian art, Christies (Melbourne), 01 May 2000–01 May 2000
Blue chip XII: The collector's exhibition, Niagara Galleries, Richmond, 02 Mar 2010–01 Apr 2010
Important Australian and international art including private collections curated by John Cruthers, Bonhams Australia, Woollahra, 16 Jun 2015–16 Jun 2015
Referenced in 6 publications
Bonhams Australia, Bonhams Australia: Important Australian and international art including private collections curated by John Cruthers, Tuesday 16 June 2015, Sydney, Sydney, Jun 2015, 72, 73 (colour illus.). lot no. 38
David Jones' Art Gallery, Sydney, Fine & decorative art, Sydney, 1989, n.pag.. cat.no. 15
Deborah Edwards, Godfrey Miller, 'Godfrey Miller. The works', pg. 11-86, Sydney, 1996, 37 (colour illus.), 38, 41, 46, 121. plate no. 25
Godfrey Miller, Sydney, 1965, 52 (illus.). plate no. 52
Art and Australia (Vol. 27, No. 1), Sydney, Spring 1989, n.pag. (colour illus.).
Unknown, Sydney Still Life, Sydney, 1986, n.pag.. cat.no. 23