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Australian art

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The fish stealer



John Passmore


04 Feb 1904 - 09 Oct 1984


"By the end of 1953 Passmore's gestures were getting broader. His paint, no longer applied in crisp washes of green, thickened. Though by no means aggressive, it assumed a distinct physicality. Beneath the surface, the influence of Tintoretto was beginning to emerge. Chiaroscuro, much abstracted, appeared. Such are the more obvious characteristics of a series of paintings of boys and fishermen on wharves, piers, and beaches. These images were projected with the same meditative totality as his still-lifes. The quarrelling figures in 'Fish stealer', or the informal yet energetic grouping of 'If you don't believe me ask the old bloke', do not read as human dramas. Fishermen, air, pier, and water are all concretions of the same nameless substance, subtly knit together. Postures are deliberately clumsy and angular, the bodies are lumpish. Passmore's line, with muffled eloquence, runs forward, stops, thickens, gropes, turns a corner, and fades again. The awkward figures repeat the ungraceful carriage of most Australians: more important, however, their gawkiness is a deliberate guard against too florid or fluent a gesture of the brush."

Robert Hughes, 'The Art of Australia', Penguin, 1966




Media category


Materials used

oil on hardboard


41.0 x 85.0 cm board; 58.5 x 102.0 x 2.3 cm

Signature & date

Signed l.r., oil "JP".


Bequest of Carlyle Greenwell 1961


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Passmore

Works in the collection


Shown in 6 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 6 publications


Deutscher-Menzies Fine Art, The Sydney auction: Australian and International Art: Fine Art, 4 March 2003, Sydney, 2003, 76. lot no. 43, 'Newcastle Beach', 1955, oil on composition board, 33 x 83 cm, relates to the Gallery's painting and 'The fish stealer' is refered to in this catalogue entry.

Paula Dredge, Margaret Sawicki, Steven Miller and Lindsay Parker, S.A. Parker Framing Works, 'Works in the collection with known Parker frames', pg. 27-68, Sydney, 2004, 66 (illus.).

Robert Lindsay., Aspects of Australian Art: Art Gallery of New South Wales travelling art exhibition 1976, 'John Passmore', Sydney, 1976, (illus.). 60; not paginated

Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart, Favourites: Margaret Olley and Jeffrey Smart selections, Sydney, 2002. NOTE: no catalogue numbers; Jeffrey Smart selection.

Barry Pearce, John Passmore 1904-84, Sydney, 1984, 65 (colour illus.). 38

David Thomas, Society of Artists Spring Exhibition, 'Works from the Wesfarmers collection of Australian art part 1: lots 1-23’, pg. 24-25, Sydney, 1912, 24.