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Australian art

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Nocturne no. 3, Commonwealth Lane



Danila Vassilieff


1897 - 1958


For my subjects I must find something that speaks to me. Something simple and elemental. I may find that anywhere - in a street, in the form of an apple, in a garden, or in a grimy slum lane.
Danila Vassilieff, 1936

Danila Vassilieff was a Russian refugee who escaped the Revolution by immigrating to Australia in 1923. He is credited with pioneering figurative expressionism and social realism in Australian art during the 1940s.
'Nocturne no 3, Commonwealth Lane' dates from Vassilieff's Sydney period (1935-36), when he had returned to Australia after several years spent travelling, working, and exhibiting throughout Asia, Europe, South America, and West Indies. It was displayed in the artist's first Sydney exhibition at Macquarie Galleries, in 1936, which polarised critical opinion for being 'ultra-modernist'. The inner-city street scene depicts the facades of terraced houses - since demolished -illuminated by a lone street light at night. Painted with spontaneity in a tertiary palette from his Surry Hills studio Vassilieff's representation of his newfound urban environment is fervent and defining.


Other Title

Nocturne, Commonwealth Lane



Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas


52.7 x 47.3 cm stretcher; 71.4 x 65.8 x 2.2 cm frame

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1968

Accession number


Artist information

Danila Vassilieff

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 8 publications


Mary Eagle, Australian Modern Painting Between the Wars 1914-1939, 'The Depression', pg. 126-137, Sydney, 1989, 137 (colour illus.).

Macquarie Galleries, Exhibition of paintings by Vassilieff, Sydney, 1936. either 17 'Nocturne, Sydney' or 18 'Commonwealth Lane, Sydney'

Charles Merewether, Art and social commitment: an end to the city of dreams 1931-1948, Sydney, 1984, 17 (colour illus.), 111. 5

Felicity St John Moore, Vassilieff and his art, 'Urban impressions 1935-1938', pg. 29-48, Melbourne, 1982, 32, 142, 191. titled 'Nocturne, Commonwealth Lane'

John Saxby (Editor), Look, 'The art that made me: Kevin Connor', pg. 12-13, Sydney, May 2016, 13.

Felicity St John Moore, Vassilieff: a retrospective exhibition of paintings, sculptures and watercolours, Bulleen, 1985, 15. 9; titled and dated 'Nocturne, Commonwealth Lane' 1935

Natalie Wilson, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Out of Melbourne: realisms and mythologies', pg. 163-164, Sydney, 2000, 164, 171 (colour illus.), 302.

Editor Unknown, Sydney Morning Herald, 'Art exhibitons. Vassilieff's paintings.', Sydney, 03 Mar 1936. reference to 'Commonwealth Lane and 'Nocturne, Sydney'