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Walls of China



Russell Drysdale

England, Australia

07 Feb 1912 - 29 Jun 1981


'... it has been one long tragedy-track over scorched earth ... a nightmare journey through a day-long dust storm ... The sky appears leaden, like a snow sky in Europe, or is crossed by great bands of black, red and grey ... Dead trees, a tragic number, loom through the murk in a variety of fantastic shapes.'
- Keith Newman 1944

A series of dry seasons culminated in a year of severe drought, the worst on record, in western New South Wales in 1944. Towards the end of the year the Sydney Morning Herald commissioned Drysdale to accompany reporter Keith Newman and a photographer to cover the story. During their journey they camped one night at Lake Mungo in the remote west of the state, where an extensive sand dune called 'The Walls of China' was located.

Publication of Drysdale's drawings led to recognition of his great skill as a draughtsman, while his extraordinary experience also inspired a series of paintings. In 'Walls of China', perhaps the most spectacular work in this drought series, Drysdale transformed elements of the natural landscape into iconic symbols, marking the emergence of his mature vision of Australia as a timeless continent.


Other Titles

The Walls of China

The Walls of China (Gol Gol)

Walls of China Gol Gol



Media category


Materials used

oil on hardboard


75.9 x 101.0 cm board; 95.0 x 121.1 x 5.2 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed l.r. corner, black oil "Russell Drysdale". Not dated.


Purchased 1945

Accession number


Artist information

Russell Drysdale

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 16 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 44 publications


A selection of eighty-two reproductions mainly from the Australian collection and including examples from the British, French and Dutch [Art Gallery of New South Wales], Sydney, 1959. plate no. 38

Tim Bonyhady, Art Monthly Australia, `Disturbing the Dead', pg. 9-12, Canberra, Nov 1997, 9 (illus.) 9-12.

Helen Campbell, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Out of Sydney: city and hinterlands', pg. 185-186, Sydney, 2000, 201 (colour illus.), 300.

Helen Campbell, Look, 'Drysdale textile design... and other surprising 'rediscoveries'', pg. 30, Sydney, Aug 2014, 30.

Helen Campbell, Look, 'Russell Drysdale 1912-1981', pg. 14-15, Heidelberg, Apr 1998, 15 (colour illus.).

Gary Catalano, An intimate Australia: The landscape & recent Australian art, 'The figure of Russell Drysdale', pg. 12-29, Sydney, 1985, 18-19, 30 (colour illus.), 31.

Art in the sun, 'Russell Drysdale 1912-1981', pg. 36, Brookvale, 2000, 36 (colour illus.).

Rob Ditessa', Artist's palette, 'Icons on show', pg. 54-59, Sydney, 2000, 58 (colour illus.).

Christine Dixon and Terry Smith, Aspects of Australian figurative painting 1942-1962: dreams, fears and desires, 'Discussion of the images', pg. 71-90, Sydney, 1984, 68 (illus.) ,77, 93. plate no. 53; titled 'Walls of China, Gol, Gol'

Russell Drysdale, The paintings of Russell Drysdale: reproducing fifteen plates in colour with an essay by Joseph Burke, 'List of works and owners, 1951', pg.47-52, Sydney, 1951, 50. titled 'Walls of China, Gol Gol'

Geoffrey Dutton, Russell Drysdale, London, 1964, 127 (illus.), 187. plate no. 37; titled 'Walls of China, Gol-Gol'

James Gleeson, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Russell Drysdale', pg. 39-43, Sydney, Oct 1960, 41 (illus.). titled 'Walls of China, Gol Gol'

Peter Gotting, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'To great and absent friends', pg. 14, Sydney, 01 Aug 2000, 14 (illus.).

Russell Drysdale, Perth, 1999, 17.

Rebels and precursors : the revolutionary years of Australian art, 'Monetary Rewards', pg. 229-233, Ringwood, 1981, 231, 264.

Seeking the Centre, 'Geography is never innocent: or, what the explorers wrote in the landscape', pg. 58-84, Cambridge, 1998, 81-81 (colour illus.), 168.

Christopher Heathcote, Russell Drysdale: defining the modern Australian landscape, 'Defining the modern Australian landscape', pg. 9-32, Kent Town, 2013, 20 (colour illus.), 53 (colour illus.), 84.

Robert Hughes, The art of Australia, 'The stylists 1939-50', pg. 169-196, Melbourne, 1970, 195, 324. titled 'The Walls of China, Gol Gol'

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Painting and Sculpture', pg. 102-181, Sydney, 1999, 150 (colour illus.).

Dugald Jellie, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Dust to dusk', pg. 1,4., Sydney, 19 Aug 2006-20 Aug 2006. Travel Section of Weekend Edition, pg. 1, 4.

Lou Klepac, Australian painters of the twentieth century, 'Russell Drysdale', pg. 88-99, Sydney, 2000, 91 (colour illus.).

Lou Klepac, The life and work of Russell Drysdale, 'Drought journey', pg. 79-86, Kensington, 1983, 81, 254 (colour illus.), 255 (colour illus.), 366. plate no. 67 & 68; Note: Plate no. 68 is a detail of this work and is printed on pg. 255.; titled 'Walls of China, Gol Gol'

Dômo - Australian Living Handbook, Japan, 1999, 17 (colour illus.). plate no. 4

Patrick McCaughey, Australian Art Review, 'Russell Drysdale 1912-81', pg. 114-117, Rozelle, 1982, cover (colour illus., detail), 115 (colour illus.).

AGNSW Collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 8, 52 (colour illus.).

The artist & the desert, Sydney, 1981, 45 (colour illus.). titled 'The Walls of China, Gol Gol'

Greg McKeon (Editor), Pasture degredation and recovery in Australia's rangelands: learning from history, 'Degradation and recovery episodes in Australia's rangelands: An anthology', pg. 87-172, Queensland, 2004, 121 (colour illus.). plate 2.4

Humphrey McQueen, Art Monthly Australia, 'Positions vacant', pg. 21-23, Canberra, Sep 2000, 22. review of 'Australian icons' exhibition

Hal Missingham., Hemisphere: an Asian-Australian magazine, 'Paintings by Australian artists', Sydney, May 1957, 16 (illus.). titled 'The Walls of China'

They kill you in the end, 'Trustees', pg. 24-44, Sydney, 1973, 28, 101.

Read-to-go Art Picture pack, Glebe, 2000, card no. 5 (colour illus.).

Barry Pearce, Two hundred years of Australian painting: nature, people and art in the southern continent, 'Introduction', pg.17-23 (in Japanese), Tokyo, 1992, 22, 163 (colour illus.), 183. 106

Twentieth century Australian masterworks from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Fred Williams Pilbara Series, Tokyo, 1985, 34 (colour illus.). 17

Sarah Scott, Seize the day: exhibitions, Australia and the world, 'A colonial legacy: Australian painting at the Tate Gallery, London, 1963', pg. 19.1-19.22., Clayton, 2008, 19.3.

Bernard Smith, 100 years of Australian painting, 'Foreword', pg. 2-4, Sydney, 1948, 10. 60; titled 'The Walls of China'

Geoffrey Smith, Russell Drysdale 1912-1981, Melbourne, 1997, 22, 88, 89 (colour illus.). 28

Sotheby's Australia, Sotheby's Melbourne: important Australian art (5 May 2009), Melbourne, 2009, 14. RELATED WORK: 'Small Landscape' 1945, lot 207

Landscapes: 1788-21st Century Australian, Box Hill, 2004?, (colour illus.). card no. 6

Russell Drysdale; a retrospective exhibition of paintings from 1937 to 1960, Sydney, 1960, 56. 42; titled 'Walls of China, Gol Gol'

David Thomas, Deutscher and Hackett fine art auction: Melbourne 29 August 2012, 'Works from the Wesfarmers collection of Australian art part 1: lots 1-23’, pg. 54-55, Melbourne, 2012, 54.

Laurence Thomas, Twelve Australian artists, 'Introduction', pg. 6-10, London, 1953, 2 (illus.), 14. 20

Editor Unknown, Condé Nast traveller : Australia, 'Sign of the times', Greenwich, Jan 2008, 87 (colour illus.). Travel article.

Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 21 Nov 1945, 9.

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Australia, 1994, 306 (illus.).