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Australian art

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La vie en rouille laquée



Raymond McGrath

Australia, Ireland

07 Mar 1903 - 23 Dec 1977


Born and educated in Sydney, Raymond McGrath’s studies at Cambridge in the 1920s were the foundation of his long career
as a modernist architect and designer in England and Ireland. His early forays into printmaking were etchings made in Sydney
in the early 1920s, but it was in his wood engraving of the 1930s that McGrath best expressed his interest in book design, and
talent as an artist.

This wood engraving illustrates a poem, ‘La Vie en Rouille Laquée’, by Ian Henning (1905–75). McGrath and Henning, both
recent graduates of the University of Sydney, became firm friends while travelling to Europe in 1926 to further their education with a small group of other Australian travelling-scholarship holders – McGrath with the intention of studying Architecture and Henning to pursue doctoral studies in French. They were in frequent contact while in Europe and in June 1928, McGrath wrote from Cambridge to Henning in Paris, describing a wood engraving he had just made of a merry-go-round, with the suggestion that Henning write a poem to accompany it.

Henning wrote in 1928: ‘So I put away my note slips … closed the shutters, lit the electric light, took out a sheet of foolscap, sat down in front of it and stared at the wall till half past seven. I did not chew the end quite off my fountain pen ... Anyhow on Friday I managed to turn out something that will serve the purpose perhaps. No doubt the hurdy-gurdy flavour will be there allright.’ The poem was well received in Cambridge when it was published, illustrated by the wood engraving, in McGrath’s
college magazine, the Lady Clare Magazine. McGrath sent the print, with a number of others, for exhibition at Macquarie
Galleries in Sydney in October that year.

from Anne Ryan, 'Australian etchings and engravings 1880s–1930s from the Gallery's collection', AGNSW, Sydney 2007


Other Title

Babette s'en va



Media category


Materials used

wood engraving, printed in black ink on ivory Abbey Mills paper




10.3 x 12.7 cm blockmark; 28.8 x 22.1 cm sheet

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r., pen and brown ink "Raymond McGrath, 1928.".


Purchased 1964


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Raymond McGrath

Works in the collection


Referenced in 3 publications


Roger Arthur Butler, Raymond McGrath prints: the catalogue, Armadale, 1979, (illus.). 64

Nicholas Draffin, Australian woodcuts and linocuts of the 1920s and 1930s, South Melbourne, 1976, 13, 65 (illus.).

Anne Ryan, Australian etchings and engravings 1880s–1930s from the Gallery's collection, Sydney, 2007, 83, 83 (colour illus.). 126