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Australian art

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Russell Drysdale

England, Australia

07 Feb 1912 - 29 Jun 1981


'Sofala' is regarded as one of Russell Drysdale's finest paintings, representing the artist at the height of his powers. With its compelling evocation of atmosphere and ambience, the painting transcends literal description of a particular place to become an expression of the quintessential qualities of an inland Australian country town.

Drysdale first visited this former gold-mining settlement in August 1947 with fellow artist Donald Friend. He made a sketch and took photographs but, as was customary for him, completed the painting in his studio on returning to Sydney.
In 'Sofala', Drysdale pares down the reality of the subject to its barest essentials, achieving an intensified synthesis of visual and emotional impact. His modernist focus on the construction of mood in this work marked a radical departure from the prevailing traditions of Australian landscape painting.

This painting won the Wynne Prize in 1947 and was acquired by the Gallery in 1952.




Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas on hardboard


71.7 x 93.1 cm board; 91.2 x 112.2 x 6.5 cm frame

Signature & date

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


Purchased by the Gallery Trustees from Macquarie Galleries, Sydney 19/12/1952

Accession number


Wynne Prize

Winner - 1947

Artist information

Russell Drysdale

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 19 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 75 publications


Len Annois (Editor), The Australian artist, East Melbourne, Autumn 1948, 45 (illus.).

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 111 (colour illus.).

Angela Bennie, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Hill End: preserving the painting ground', pg. 13-14, Sydney, 28 Jul 1995, 13.

Helen Campbell, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Out of Sydney: city and hinterlands', pg. 185-186, Sydney, 2000, 203 (colour illus.), 300.

Helen Campbell, Look, 'Wynne Centenary', pg. 20-21, Heidelberg, Apr 1997, 20 (colour illus.).

Helen Campbell, Wynne centenary 1897-1997: a selection of past winners from the Gallery's collection, Sydney, 1997, (colour illus.).

Edmund Capon AM, OBE and Jan Meek (Editors), Portrait of a Gallery, 'Australian 20th Century Art', pg. 71-89, Sydney, 1984, 73, 75 (colour illus.).

Gary Catalano, The years of hope: Australian art and criticism 1959-1968, 'Internationalism', pg. 22-26, Melbourne, 1981, 26.

Gary Catalano, An intimate Australia: The landscape & recent Australian art, 'The figure of Russell Drysdale', pg. 12-29, Sydney, 1985, 20-21 (illus.), 27.

Gary Catalano, Quadrant, ‘The figure of Russell Drysdale’, pg. 23-30, Australia, Apr 1982, 28.

Michael Cook (Editor), Our Australia: poetry anthology: Bush ballads to modern visions, Seven Hills, 2002, front dust jacket (colour illus., detail), inside back flap dust jacket (colour illus.).

Richard Cotter, Change and continuity; 20th Century Australian History, 'Post-war visions', South Yarra, 1998, 177 (colour illus.). source 4.75

Alison Cowan, Reader's Digest Book of the Road, Sydney, 1999, 105 (colour illus.).

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, 51.

Geoffrey Dutton, Russell Drysdale, London, 1964, 132 (illus.), 187. plate no. 45

Dinah Dysart, The Wynne prize: an Australian landscape tradition, 'The public and critical response to the Wynne prize', pg. 15-22, Sydney, 1986, cover (colour illus.), 15, 26.

Lou Klepac, Russell Drysdale: paintings 1940-72, Sydney, 1985, 9. 21

Edwards and Shaw (Printer), Russell Drysdale: retrospective exhibition 1937 - 1960, Sydney, 1960. 50

Geoffrey Dutton, Famous Australian art series: Russell Drysdale 1912-1981, Moorebank, 1989, 26, 27 (colour illus.).

Anne Gray, Hendrik Kolenberg and Tim Bonyhady, Russell Drysdale, Perth, 1999, 8, 13.

Kevin Gray and Susan Francis Gray, Elements of land law, New York, 2009, front cover (colour illus.).

Melanie Guile, What is Australia?: The land, 'Seeing the land', pg. 22-25, Port Melbourne, 2009, 24 (colour illus.).

Paul Haefliger, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Gallery's 1952 purchases', pg. 6, Sydney, 26 Mar 1953, 6.

Paul Haefliger., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Christmas art show stimulating', Sydney, 10 Dec 1947. page number unknown

Paul Haefliger, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Exhibition reveals vitality in art', pg. 2, Sydney, 16 Nov 1956.

Richard Haese, Rebels and precursors : the revolutionary years of Australian art, 'The new court painters', pg. 257-267, Ringwood, 1981, 264.

Christopher Heathcote, Russell Drysdale: defining the modern Australian landscape, Kent Town, 2013, 82.

Robert Hughes, The art of Australia, 'The stylists 1939-50', pg.169-196, Melbourne, 1970, 174,195-6, 324.

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian collection: painting and sculpture', pg. 102-181, Sydney, 1999, 152 (colour illus.).

Lou Klepac, The life and work of Russell Drysdale, 'Hill end', pg. 87-98, Kensington, 1983, 42, 90-91, 105, 121, 136, 268 (colour illus.), 367. plate no. 82

Lou Klepac, Russell Drysdale: the drawings, 'Russell Drysdale: The Rabbiters and Hill End', pg. 19-25, Sydney, 2012, 24.

Elwyn Lynn., The Weekend Australian Magazine, 'Drysdale: the outback psyche revisited...', Sydney, 15 Jun 1985. page number unknown

John MacDonald, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'On our selection: a moonlit mix', pg. 16-17, Sydney, 21 Feb 2009-22 Feb 2009, 17. Review of 'Great Collections' exhibition.

John Macdonald, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Moments at the end of the world', pg 14-15, Sydney, 05 Aug 1995, 14.

Susan McCulloch-Uehlin, The Weekend Australian, 'The lie of the land', pg. 16-19, Sydney, 20 Nov 1999-21 Nov 1999, 17.

John McDonald, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'The past master', pg. 12, Sydney, 11 Apr 1998, 12.

John McPhee, Great collections, Sydney, 2008, 99 (colour illus.).

Joanna Mendelssohn., Bulletin, 'The artists of Hill End', Sydney, 1995, 14. page number unknown

Tatlock Miller., Sun, '28 give Christmas art show', Sydney, 10 Dec 1947. page number unknown

Joyce Morgan, The Australian, 'Gold in them thar Hill End works', pg. 14, Sydney, 28 Jul 1995, 14 (colour illus.).

Margaret Olds, Australia through time, 'Australia 1947', pg. 330, Sydney, 1993, 330 (colour illus.).

Barry Pearce and Patrick McCaughey, Twentieth century Australian masterworks from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Fred Williams Pilbara Series, Tokyo, 1985, 35 (colour illus.). 18

Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 26-27 (colour illus.).

Margaret Plant, Russell Drysdale, 'Drysdale: affinities and critics', pg. 15-32, Clayton, 1987, 10 (illus.), 23. The illustration in this publication is a replica of what appeared in 'The Illustrated London News' article dated 16 December, 1950.

John Douglas Pringle and Russell Drysdale, Russell Drysdale's Australia, Sydney, 1974, 7 (colour illus.).

Gurcharn Rehill, General mathematics, South Yarra, 1999, 389 (illus.). Using geometry to analyse perspective in works of art.

Zoë Ross (Editor), Eyewitness travel guides: Australia, 'Botanic gardens and the domain', pg. 100-111, London, 1998, 106 (colour illus.).

Susanna Short., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Focus on Drysdales at emotional auction', Sydney, 01 Jul 1981. page number unknown

Susanna Short., The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Richness in little-seen Drysdales’, Sydney, 21 Jun 1985. page number unknown

Bernard Smith, Australian painting 1788-1990, 'Realistic Expressionism and Post Impressionism, mainly in war-time Sydney', pg. 239-271, South Melbourne, 1991, 249, 250 (illus.), 559. 144

Bernard Smith, The critic as advocate: selected essays 1941-1988, 'Russell Drysdale 1948', pg. 97-107, Melbourne, 1989, 102.

Bernard Smith, Meanjin, 'Archibald, Wynne, Sulman art awards', pg. 28-39, Melbourne, Autumn 1948, 29.

Geoffrey Smith, Russell Drysdale 1912-1981, Melbourne, 1997, 23, 102, 103 (colour illus.). 35

Treania Smith and Lucy Swanton, The Macquarie Galleries, 19 Bligh Street, Sydney invite you to an exhibition of paintings:, Sydney, Dec 1947. 5

William Splatt and Barbara Burton, 100 masterpieces of Australian painting, Adelaide, 1973, 162, 163 (colour illus.). plate no. 78

William Splatt and Barbara Burton, A treasury of Australian painting, 'New visions in an ancient land', pg. 55-56, Australia, 1976, 55, 58 (colour illus.), 67. plate no. 42

Kathie Sutherland, Brett Whiteley: A sensual lilne 1957-67, Victoria, 2010, 32.

Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Elizabeth Cross and Barry Pearce, Southern reflections: 10 contemporary Australian artists, Sydney, 1998, 40 (colour illus.). 13

Wendy Symonds (Editor), Look, Heidelberg, Apr 1998, 3 (colour illus.), 15.

Wendy Symonds (Editor), Look, 'Close-ups of the collection', pg. 6, Heidelberg, Mar 1997, 3 (colour illus.), 6.

Daniel Thomas AM and Paul Haefliger, Russell Drysdale; a retrospective exhibition of paintings from 1937 to 1960, Sydney, 1960, 29 (colour illus.), 57. plate no. 13; 50

Laurence Thomas., Contemporary Australian painters, 'Foreword', Ottawa, 1957, (illus.). 27; 4

Laurie Thomas (Editor), 200 Years of Australian painting, 'Sofala; Sir Russell Drysdale', pg. 58, Rushcutters Bay, 1971, 58, 59 (colour illus.).

Patrick White, Riders in the chariot, Australia, 1993, cover (colour illus.). detail

Donald Williams, In our own image: the story of Australian art, 'Figurative versus abstract 1951-60s', Sydney, 1995, 141 (colour illus.).

Gavin Wilson, The artists of Hill End: Education guide, 'The Hill End Grou, p 1947-56', pg. 2-5., Sydney, 1995, cover (colour illus.), 2 (illus.). 1

Gavin Wilson, The artists of Hill End, 'The emergence of vernacular Modernism', pg. 21-28, Sydney, 1995, 24, 36, 39 (colour illus.), 45, 93, 118. plate no. 16

Editor Unknown (Editor), Bulletin, 'Sundry shows', Sydney, 28 Jan 1948. page number unknown

Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Archibald Prize goes to Melbourne artist Dargie again’, Sydney, 23 Jan 1948, 2,3 (illus.). Sub-heading: '“Herald” critic’s views'

Editor Unknown (Editor), Australian art masterpieces, South Yarra, 1984, (colour illus.). plate no. 100

Russell Drysdale: first exhibition in England, London, 30 Nov 1950, 7. 22

Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 09 Mar 1959, 10 (illus.).

author unknown, The Illustrated London News, 'Australia by an Australian artist: Russell Drysdale's first London show', pg. 1005, London, 16 Dec 1950, 1005 (illus.).

Archibald Wynne and Sulman competitions for 1947, Sydney, Jun 1948, 12. 35

Melbourne Contemporary Artists, Melbourne, Sep 1947. 21