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Australian art

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New York

circa 1936


Peter Purves Smith


26 Mar 1912 - 23 Jul 1949


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.



circa 1936

Media category


Materials used

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.


Purchased 1960

Accession number


Artist information

Peter Purves Smith

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 11 publications


Dr Joseph Brown and Maie Casey, Homage to Peter Purves-Smith 1912-1949, Melbourne, 1976, (illus.). 4; not paginated

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. 246

Mary Eagle and Jan Minchin, 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

Mary Eagle, Peter Purves Smith: a painter in peace and war, 'Direction', pg. 57-68, Sydney, 2001, 62, 63 (colour illus.), 64, 116.

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].

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.

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.