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.
Nocturne, Commonwealth Lane
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.
© Heide Museum of Modern Art
Shown in 5 exhibitions
An exhibition of paintings by Vassilieff (1936), Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, 03 Mar 1936–16 Mar 1936
Art and social commitment: an end to the city of dreams:
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 27 Sep 1984–28 Oct 1984
- Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 15 Nov 1984–06 Jan 1985
- National Gallery of Victoria [St Kilda Road], Melbourne 24 Jan 1985–03 Mar 1985
- Queensland Art Gallery, South Brisbane 26 Mar 1985–28 Apr 1985
Vassilieff: a retrospective exhibition of paintings, sculptures and watercolours:
Angry Penguins and Realist Painting in Melbourne in the 1940s:
Shaded, Dubbo Regional Art Gallery, Dubbo, 28 Aug 2017–03 Dec 2017
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 cat.no. 17 'Nocturne, Sydney' or cat.no. 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. cat.no. 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. cat.no. 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'