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Still life (seed pods)

circa 1949


Margaret Preston

Australia, England, France

29 Apr 1875 – 28 May 1963

Artist profile

  • Details

    Other Title
    Gum seed pods
    circa 1949
    Media category
    Materials used
    oil on canvas
    49.0 x 47.5 cm
    Signature & date

    Signed c.r. 'M. PRESTON'. Not dated.

    Purchased 2022 with funds provided by the Australian Masterpiece Fund, including the following major donors: Atelier, Boyarsky Family Trust, Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM & the late Harold Campbell-Pretty, Sue & Sam Chisholm AM, Professor Maria Craig, Rowena Danziger AM & Ken Coles AM, Davies Family Foundation, Peter & Robyn Flick, Kiera Grant, The Greatorex Fund, Lindy & Robert Henderson, Jonathan & Karen Human, Alexandra Joel & Philip Mason, Carole Lamerton & John Courtney, Robyn Martin-Weber, Lawrence & Sylvia Myers, Vicki Olsson, Guy & Marian Paynter, Elizabeth & Philip Ramsden, Joyce Rowe, Penelope Seidler AM, Denyse Spice, Max & Nola Tegel, Philippa Warner, The WeirAnderson Foundation, Ray Wilson OAM, Women's Art Group and Rob & Jane Woods.
    20th-century galleries (ground floor)
    Accession number
    © Margaret Rose Preston Estate/Copyright Agency

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Margaret Preston

    Artist profile

    Works in the collection


  • About

    In the early 1920s Margaret Preston first voiced the dual ambitions she held for her art that remained in place in her subsequent career. She sought in her still life compositions statements of her modern age and expressions of the distinctions of nation. She began to draw on native plants for her subjects, for both the appeal of their ‘modern’ shapes and formations, as well as finding in them austere reminders of the unique landscapes from which they came.

    'Still life (seed pods)' is an exceptional late work reflecting these ideals. It is a tough and ‘messy’ still life, an assembly of cobs, woody flowers and seeds of native plants that are the antithesis of the pleasingly-coloured posy that the genre of flower painting traditionally stood for. Preston appears to instead relish in the toughness of these sculptural seed pod forms. With loose brushwork not commonly associated with the artist, she paints with a feel of the natural ‘untidiness’ that she registered in the Australian bush.

    In her search for artforms of national distinctions, Preston turned to the inspiration of Aboriginal art, initially in the 1920s. By the 1940s she had furthered her understanding of the formal principles and varieties of Aboriginal art by travelling to communities and cultural sites across Queensland, the Northern Territory, Central Australia, South Australia as well as in her home state of New South Wales.

    At the heart of Preston’s appropriation of Indigenous art was her conviction that a modern and necessary identity for Australia could only emerge from a connection with First Nation cultures. Her works from the 1940s most readily declare her intensions, as she applied the guise of an ‘Aboriginal’ palette and motifs in her still life compositions.

    In 'Still life (seed pods)' she based the generalised background pattern and ochre palettes on the colour designs known to her of Tiwi art and North Queensland shield designs. In these cultural ‘borrowings’ Preston intended a statement of affiliation with Aboriginal culture, picturing a hybrid of the art of European modernism and Aboriginal Australia that she sought as ideal.

    If still life painting is based on the relationship of its forms, then Preston conceptually extended the notion of this genre to embrace the idea of a relationship between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures. Notwithstanding the complexities and obvious problematics of this model, it was through the seemingly small gesture of still life painting, that Preston raised large questions of cross-cultural dialogues that remain central to the conception of the identity in contemporary Australia.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication

    • Deborah Edwards, Margaret Preston, Sydney, 2005, 186 (illus.). also known as Gum seed pods

Other works by Margaret Preston

See all 122 works