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Australian art

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Meditating on Good Friday



Stanislaus Rapotec

04 Oct 1913 - 18 Nov 1997


Born in Trieste (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) in 1913, Stanislaus Rapotec grew up in Slovenia. After serving in the Middle East during World War II, he migrated to Australia in 1948, settling in Sydney in 1955 after a period in Adelaide. During the 1960s, he gained recognition as a pioneer of the abstract expressionist movement in Australia. He made a significant contribution to the Sydney art scene and was a vital member of the important ‘Sydney Nine’ group of abstract artists.

An artist without formal training, Rapotec claimed it was the places he visited - the monasteries, churches and cathedrals of Europe, and the sites of early Christian culture that he encountered while travelling through the Middle East - that served as his art school. While he was not a man of faith, these places inspired an understanding of the capacity of great art to inspire awe and instil a sense of spiritual grandeur. During the 1960s he combined the inspirations drawn from these sites with his growing interest in the work of the New York action painters. ‘Meditating on Good Friday’ is a climactic painting produced during this period indicative of his powerful spiritually-charged gestural abstraction.

In ‘Meditating on Good Friday’ Rapotec transposes the violent drama of the Good Friday narrative that follows the crucifixion of Christ in the Christian faith into a solemn, existential expression of grief and despair. It is, as Robert Hughes described in 1961, a work of brutal power. With its gestural brushwork masking the vitalist formations beneath, the work not only encapsulates the themes of tortuous suffering and mourning associated with Good Friday, but also provides underlying suggestions of redemption and regeneration that may emerge from trauma. A manifestation of deep, turbulent emotion, the artist implies feelings whose magnitude are not easily contained in figurative or narrative form, but are instead unleashed in the overwhelming gestures of abstracted expression.

'Meditating on Good Friday' was awarded the prestigious Blake Prize for Religious Art in 1961. It caused considerable controversy as the first entirely non-figurative work to win the prize, with some taking offence at the absence of religious iconography. The awarding of the prize furthered the debate surrounding the place of abstraction in representing ecclesiastical themes, and invigorating the possibilities of representing notions of the religious and a modern sense of spirituality.




Media category


Materials used

triptych: oil on board


183 x 412 cm overall

Signature & date

Signed and Dated l.r.,oil "Rapotec 61"


Purchased with funds provided by the Gleeson O'Keefe Foundation 2016

Accession number


Artist information

Stanislaus Rapotec

Works in the collection


Shown in 8 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 16 publications


Zoja Bojic, Stanislav Rapotec: a Barbarogenius in Australian Art, Belgrade, 2007, illus. 147.

Gary Catalano, The years of hope: Australian art and criticism 1959-1968, Melbourne, 1981, 76-80; illus. 86.

Rosemary Crumlin, Images of Religion in Australian Art, Sydney, 1988, 17, 86.

Rosemary Crumlin, The Blake Prize for Religious Art - the first twenty five years - A survey, Melbourne, 1984, 13-14.

Geoffrey Dutton, The Innovators: the Sydney alternatives in the rise of modern art, literature and ideas, 1986, 192.

James Gleeson, Masterpieces of Australian Art, Melbourne, 1969, illus. 83 (in reverse). plate 83 (in reverse)

James Gleeson, Modern Painters 1931-1970, 1970. plate 64

Sasha Grishin AM, Australian art: a history, Carlton, 2013. plate 375

Robert Hughes, The art of Australia, Melbourne, 1970, 284. plate 118

Alan McCulloch (Editor), Encyclopedia of Australian art, Melbourne, 1968, illus. 337.

John McDonald, Federation: Australian art and society 1901-2001, Canberra, 2000, 208-09.

Denise Mimmocchi, Look, 'Stanislaus Rapotec: Meditating on Good Friday 1961', pg. 28-29, Sydney, May 2017-Jun 2017, 28-29 (colour illus.).

Clive Turnbull, Jean Campbell and Daniel Thomas AM, Antipodean vision, Melbourne, 1962.

The Bulletin, 'Strength of Purpose', 26 May 1962, 56. Exhibition review by Bill Hannan

Meanjin, 'Avant Garde Pinting in Sydney', Sep 1961. Article by Elwyn Lynn

The Observer, 'Capricious Juries', 04 Mar 1961, 18. Article by Bill Hannan