After a brief period as a cadet midshipman, then a stint as a jackaroo in remote NSW, Peter Purves Smith began his formal art studies while on an extended trip to Europe, under Iain Macnab at London’s Grosvenor School of Modern Art.
Surrealism was making its mark across Europe during this period, and shortly before his return to Australia in 1936, Purves Smith studied work by its leading practitioners shown in two major exhibitions held in London and New York that year.
'New York', with its organic anthropomorphic forms tilting out of control, displays affinities with the paintings of Salvador Dali, as well as with the cityscapes of New York’s Ash Can artists Edward Hopper and George Bellows. The painting was among the first in Australian art to adopt surrealism’s vocabulary, and predates his contemporaries James Gleeson and Albert Tucker by several years.
oil on canvas
76.2 x 50.8 cm stretcher; 90.5 x 65.0 x 3.2 cm frame
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Shown in 5 exhibitions
Purchases and Acquisitions for 1960, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Mar 1961–23 Apr 1961
Surrealism: Revolution by Night:
Peter Purves Smith:
- Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra 08 Mar 2001–15 Apr 2001
- Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, University of Western Australia, Perth 04 May 2001–10 Jun 2001
- Benalla Art Gallery, Australia 02 Jul 2001–15 Aug 2001
- Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne 03 Sep 2001–15 Oct 2001
Lurid Beauty: Australian Surrealism and its Echoes (working title), Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 09 Oct 2015–31 Jan 2016
Referenced in 11 publications
Basil Burdett, Art in Australia [series 3, no. 73], 'Modern Art in Melbourne', pg. 12-23, Sydney, Nov 1938, 21, 71 (illus.).
Christopher Chapman, Surrealism: Revolution by night, 'Surrealism in Australia', pg. 216-301, Canberra, 1993, 237 (colour illus.), 257, 263, 325. cat.no. 246
Elizabeth M. Farrelly, Modern times: the untold story of modernism in Australia, '11 Tall tales', pg. 86-97, Sydney, 2008, 89 (colour illus.). NOTE: Caption reads 'Purves Smith painted this surreal vision of New York skyscrapers after visiting the exhibition 'Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism' at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in December 1936.
John (Sam) Jones, Art and Australia (Vol. 39, No. 2), 'Peter Purves Smith 1912-1949: an exemplary exhibition of "modesty and discretion"', pg. 227-229, Sydney, Dec 2001-Feb 2002, 228 (colour illus.), 229.
Hal Missingham (Editor), 1960 Acquisitions, Sydney, 1960, 28-29. 'Painted in George Bell's studio, Melbourne 1936, from a sketch made in New York on the artist's way back from England' [information from the artist's widow, Mrs C.R. Purves Smith, in letter to Daniel Thomas, 12.12.1960].
Daniel Thomas, Grace Cossington Smith, 'Modernity and inwards', pg. 102-107, Canberra, 2005, 103.
Natalie Wilson, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Out of Melbourne: realisms and mythologies', pg. 163-164, Sydney, 2000, 164, 166 (colour illus.), 167 (colour illus., detail), 302.
Unknown, Peter Purves Smith: a painter in peace and war, 'Direction', pg. 57-68, Sydney, 2001, 62, 63 (colour illus.), 64, 116.
Unknown and Maie Casey, Homage to Peter Purves-Smith 1912-1949, Melbourne, 1976, (illus.). cat.no. 4; not paginated
Unknown and Unknown, The George Bell School: Students - Friends - Influences, 'Russell Drysdale and Peter Purves Smith', pg. 89-116, Melbourne, 1981, 78 (colour illus.), 109 (illus.). dated incorrectly as 1939
Bernard William Smith, Place, taste and tradition: a study of Australian art since 1788, 'Surrealism and the neo-surrealist developments', pg. 214-238, South Melbourne, 1979, 226.