We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


The engineers



Edwin Russell Tanner


31 Dec 1920 – 27 Nov 1980

Alternate image of The engineers by Edwin Russell Tanner
Alternate image of The engineers by Edwin Russell Tanner
Alternate image of The engineers by Edwin Russell Tanner
  • Details

    Other Titles
    Power House
    Water Power Engineers
    Media category
    Materials used
    oil on linen
    79.0 x 98.5 x 2.5 cm stretcher; 87.0 x 106.2 x 5.5 cm frame
    Signature & date

    Signed and dated u.l. corner, black oil "EDWIN TANNER./ .54".
    Signed lower c. verso on backboard, blue-green synthetic polymer paint? ".../ EDWIN TANNER.".
    Dated bot c. verso on backboard, black synthetic polymer paint? ".../ 1953 - 1954".

    Purchased with funds provided by the Australian Art Collection Benefactors 2019
    South Building, ground level, 20th-century galleries
    Accession number
    © Edwin Tanner

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Edwin Russell Tanner

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Edwin Tanner has long been identified as an artist who worked outside the mainstream. He came to prominence as a painter during the 1950s when he began exhibiting a distinct series of works that are not easily categorised within the stylistic tendencies of Australian modernism. “He owes no allegiance to any particular school of painting but it has been suggested that he is the sole member of the class “mathematical expressionist.”” This description, from the artist’s biography in a 1960 exhibition catalogue, is a fitting one.

    Tanner had trained as an engineer and was working in Hobart as Engineer-in-Charge at the Hydro-Electric Commission of Tasmania when he enrolled in evening classes in a Diploma of Art at Hobart Technical College in 1951. He completed this seven year course in four, and during the period of his studentship began exhibiting works, initially at the Contemporary Art Society in Melbourne in 1954. The same year, Tanner enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Hobart, majoring in Philosophy and English.

    Inspired by the varied facets of his intellectual pursuits, Tanner established an independent creative vision.Tanner’s expertise in mathematics, engineering and aeronautics informed his subjects, but his art was equally fuelled by his devotion to literature, philosophy and music. Combining these influences, he created works of a scientifically-inspired visual poetry.

    'The engineers' is an exemplary work from this formative period and telling of the artist’s exploration of the relationships between humanity and technology. The engineers reveals a style of a taut linear precision that Tanner used to invoke subjects drawn from his daily workplace as an engineer. 'The engineers' embodies the fraught energy of a high tension wire in an image where human and machine elements have become interchangable and part of the interconnected movements of a finely tuned instrument.

    Tanner’s compositions, though somewhat whimsical in appearance, are ultimately driven by his primary concern with exploring the “mysteries of the internal world” (Tanner 1963). As such, 'The engineers' is a product of his existential musings, encapsulating something of the conditions of a scientific age, as he questions the place of the self within the technological dimensions of the modern world.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 6 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 5 publications

Other works by Edwin Russell Tanner