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Australian art

Contemporary art

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Fairy Bower Rorschach



Ben Quilty


01 Sep 1973 -


'Fairy Bower Rorschach' continues Ben Quilty's practice of oil painted Rorschach works where an original painted image is both damaged and duplicated by pressing one panel at a time onto another similar sized panel while the paint is still wet. Quilty refers to the Swiss psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach's ink blot tests - widely seen as pioneering contemporary mental illness therapy and medication at the beginning of the 20th century.

The damaged and mirrored image is of a waterfall at Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales near where Quilty lives and works. Fairy Bower Falls is an idyllic and spectacular destination for tourists and locals. Photographs from the mid 19th century depict the full colonial splendour of women with parasols and men in top hats at the foot of the falls.

Fairy Bower Falls is also reputedly the site of a massacre of scores of aboriginal people in the early 19th century. Although there are no written records there has been a strong oral history of such an event handed down amongst locals.

By Rorschaching this image of such a precarious site Quilty asks the viewer to reconsider their conception of this landscape as a place of idyllic beauty. The duplication and damage of the image echoes the disturbing and violent history this site may have witnessed. This work continues Quilty's exploration of Australian identity and history.

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Place where the work was made

Robertson New South Wales Australia



Media category


Materials used

oil on linen


120.5 x 130.0 cm each panel; 241.0 x 520.0 cm overall

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased with funds provided by the Patrick White Bequest Fund, 2012. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Ben Quilty

Works in the collection


Shown in 6 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Andrew Denton, Ben Quilty: the Fiji wedding, 'Heartquake: embedded with Quilty', n.pag., Melbourne, 2013, n.pag. (colour illus.), n.pag.. viewed 27.06.2013,

Cara Pinchbeck, Look, 'When silence falls', pg. 24-26, Sydney, Dec 2015-Jan 2016, 24, 26 (colour illus.).

Lisa Slade, Ben Quilty: Prudential Eye Awards Contemporary Asian Art, 'Ben Quilty', pg. 9-11, United Kingdom, 2014, 9, 16-17 (colour illus.), 32.

Natalie Wilson and Anneke Jaspers, Foundation Newsletter #22, 'Curators' and coordinators' reports: Australian art', pg. 6-7, Sydney, Jun 2013, 7.