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Laudanum 15, from the series Laudanum



Tracey Moffatt

Australia, United States of America

12 Nov 1960 -


Tracey Moffatt's 'Laudanum' 1998 is an elaborate play which operates on many levels: there are references to film (especially Murnau's 'Nosferatu' 1922); to the 19th century when women used the opiate based laudanum as a calmative despite its undoubted addictive and hallucinatory effects; and to the history of photography itself through the use of photogravure. In making 'Laudanum', Moffatt shot the series at Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney and at a Georgian farm house north of Sydney. The negatives were then digitally re-mastered before being manually printed.

The technique of photogravure was invented by Karel Klîc in 1879 and is a photomechanical process using a photographic etching method which produces a very fine detailed impression. Fox Talbot set the ground work for the development of photogravure with his photoglyphic engraving process, and the technique has been almost continuously used to the present day because of the beauty of the finished product especially through its effects on tissue and watercolour paper. Alfred Stieglitz used photogravure for his editions of 'Camerawork', and Robert Mapplethorpe highly prized its effects in his own work. 'Laudanum' has, in fact, been produced by Mapplethorpe's printer.

Further influences in this work include Pauline Réage's 'The Story of O', where the sadomasochistic master/servant relationship can be seen to serve as a metaphor for coloniser/colonised in the broader social, political and historical sense. Rather than being a moral tale, however, 'Laudanum' presents the pleasures and pains of dream, fantasy, nightmare, and subjugation with wit colouring the final outcome to the loose narrative: the mistress's fantasy can be seen to have sprung from nothing more than a pillow.

Ghostly figures abound in 'Laudanum', whether plucked from the superstitions of the 19th century inhabitants of the houses, from drug induced fantasies, from the shadows of old movies, or glimpsed through keyholes. These play on our imaginings of what might be which in the case of 'Laudanum' is an erotically charged set of possibilities with no clearly defined outcome.




Media category


Materials used

photogravure, toned




45.0 x 37.2 cm image (irreg.); 46.1 x 38.0 cm platemark; 76.0 x 57.0 cm sheet

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r.corner sheet, pencil "Tracey Moffatt `98".


Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 1999


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Tracey Moffatt

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 6 publications


Judy Annear, Look: 1953-2003 celebrating 50 years, 'Art through a lens: photography and the Art Gallery Society', pg.48-50, Sydney, May 2003, 49-50.

Centre national de la photographie and Centre Cultural de la Fundació "la Caixa", Tracey Moffatt, Paris, 1999, (illus.).

Susan Kandel (Editor), Art and Text, "Tracey Moffatt: Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney", Blair French, pg. 83-84, Rose Bay, Aug 1999-Oct 1999, 83, 84 (illus.).

Judith White (Editor), Look, 'Lookout: Presentation evening', pg. 7, Melbourne, Nov 1999, 7.

Judith White (Editor), Look, 'Society Acquisitions: A year of gifts to the Gallery', pg. 16, Melbourne, Dec 1999-Jan 2000, 16 (colour illus.).

Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 1999, 'Collections: Photography', p21-22, Sydney, 1999, 22.