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Danila Vassilieff

Russia, Australia

1897 – 1958

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  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    oil on canvas on board
    42.0 x 50.0 cm
    Purchased with funds provided by the Australian Art Collection Benefactors 2022
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Heide Museum of Modern Art
    Artist information
    Danila Vassilieff

    Works in the collection


  • About

    When the nomadic Russian-born Danila Vassilieff (1897-1958) arrived in Melbourne in 1937, his work came as a revelation to a generation of experimental artists, including Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker who were exploring new avenues for their art at this time. Prior to coming to Australia (initially in 1923 and then again in 1936 after a period in London) Vassilieff had been a Cossack soldier in the White Russian Army and left his homeland escaping persecution. In Australia, it was both the figure and artist; his background and peripatetic life along with his brashly modern approach to painting and his first-hand experience of contemporary art of Europe, that so enthralled the younger artists of wartime Melbourne.

    Prior to arriving in Melbourne Vassilieff spend a period working in Sydney from 1935. He painted an expansive array of subjects of the city and its surrounds. These included the bush landscapes of Woronora, now a southern Sydney suburb, where Vassilieff was working as an assistant engineer with the Water Board for construction on the Woronora Dam and pipeline.

    In '(Woronora)' Vassilieff pairs the dynamics of nature and industry to create a striking landscape imbued with an agitated energy. Vassilieff paints with a Cézanne-inspired sense of structure, but the work is ignited by his moving brushwork, foreboding palette and the dancing inflections of darkening colour. With the inclusion of electricity poles against the landscape, the work, like those of Grace Cossington Smith from this time, invokes the metaphor of modern energy. But in Vassilieff’s painting the outcome is ominous rather than celebratory in tone.

    Painter Albert Tucker once claimed Vassilieff’s “external eye gave a vision of Australia none of us had seen before.” With its expressionist charge, the collision of colours and brushwork, and the darkened outlines defining the grounding structure of place, '(Woronora)' represents the modern vision of landscape offered by Vassilieff’s painting. It is a work that is dense and brooding in feel, and like the Surry Hills nightscapes Vassilieff was painting at this time, captures something of the sombre mood and turmoil of the Depression era.

Other works by Danila Vassilieff

See all 12 works