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Australian art

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The Massey hammer



Robert Barnes


1947 -


In 2006, Brisbane-born artist Robert Barnes accepted a residency from Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, to paint the site of the former railway repair workshop at Inveresk. Part of the large industrial complex dating back to the nineteenth century, Barnes chose as his subject the abandoned forges, coke-encrusted furnaces, benches and tools of the blacksmith shop for a series of thirteen canvases, grand in scale and rich in texture, colour and history. As Barnes once explained, 'The ordinary becomes the extraordinary'.

'The Massey hammer', executed in the artist's trademark thick, impasto swirls of grey and brown oil with flashes of red and yellow glistening from chains and the scattered remains of discarded tools, is a nostalgic reflection upon the end of the machine age. Produced by B&W Massey of Manchester as early as the 1860s, the steam hammer enabled rapid and accurate blows to be struck for the die-forging of mass produced articles such as bolts, rivets, wrenches and other tools. Barnes paints the motionless metal giant, silently entombed in its factory shrine, without human presence, stilled by the progress of time.

To complement the painting, Barnes wrote 'The Massey hammer', reflecting the artist's wonder at this towering mechanical giant and desire to link the past with the present:

A space owned by power
The verb of black
which moves the ground
the workman's gavel demands
a sentence for case hardened steels
that's true for time
Precise in length and then transported manually
with ball greased chain rattling
now made permanent, with my paint, for every age.




Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas


121.5 x 122.0 cm stretcher; 143.0 x 143.2 x 5.6 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed u.r. verso on canvas, brush and black oil "Robert M. Barnes".
Dated u.r. corner verso on frame, black fibre-tipped pen "MAY 2006".


Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust 2008


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Robert Barnes

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 5 publications


Frances Callaghan, The Newcastle herald, 'What to give a gallery for its birthday', pg. 25, Newcastle, 19 Apr 2008, 25. NOTE: General reference. Artwork purchased featured in 'Robert Barnes: A revision' exhibition.

Michael Lowe, The examiner, 'Barnes brings up blacksmith past', pg. 43, Launceston, 15 Sep 2007, 43. NOTE: Review of 'Robert Barnes: A revision'.

David Penberthy (Editor), Daily Telegraph, 'Barnes paintings given to gallery', pg. 17, Sydney, 21 Apr 2008, 17. NOTE: General reference. Artwork purchased featured in 'Robert Barnes: A revision' exhibition.

Jill Stowell, The Newcastle herald, 'Industrial insights', pg. 30, Newcastle, 15 Mar 2008, 30. NOTE: Review of 'Robert Barnes: A revision' exhibition.

Editor Unknown, Illawarra mercury, 'Artscope: Wollongong City Gallery', pg. 85, New South Wales, 07 Jun 2008, 85. NOTE: Exhibition review for 'Robert Barnes: A revision'.