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Australian art

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If you don't believe me, ask the old bloke



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


61.0 x 91.5 cm board; 78.5 x 109.0 x 2.6 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed l.r. corner, black oil "J.P.". Signed bot. c. verso on label on frame, black ink "JOHN PASSMORE/ ...". Signed and dated bot. c. verso on label on frame, black ink ".../ John Passmore/ 1953".


Bequest of Carlyle Greenwell 1961


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Passmore

Works in the collection


Shown in 8 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 10 publications


Edmund Capon AM, OBE and Jan Meek (Editors), Portrait of a Gallery, 'Australian 20th Century Art', pg. 71-89, Sydney, 1984, 82 (illus.).

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, 64 (illus.).

Deborah Edwards, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Mosaic and figure', pg. 213-214, Sydney, 2000, 225 (colour illus.), 301.

Robert Lindsay., Aspects of Australian Art: Art Gallery of New South Wales travelling art exhibition 1976, 'John Passmore', Sydney, 1976, (illus.). 59

Elwyn Lynn., The Weekend Australian, 'Retrospective puts Passmore in order', Sydney, 29 Dec 1984-30 Dec 1984, page unknown.

Humphrey McQueen, Art Monthly Australia, 'Positions vacant', pg. 21-23, Canberra, Sep 2000, 22 (illus.). review of 'Australian icons' exhibition

Margaret Olley and Barry Humphries, Favourites: Margaret Olley and Barry Humphries choose from public and private collections, Sydney, 2000. Catalogue entry appears in inserted list to printed catalogue

Barry Pearce, John Passmore 1904-84, Sydney, 1984, 60 (colour illus.). 33

Barry Pearce and Patrick McCaughey, Twentieth century Australian masterworks from the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Fred Williams Pilbara Series, Tokyo, 1985, 33 (colour illus.). 16

Gavin Wilson, Harbourlife, 'harbourlife', pg. 7-32, Sydney, 2007, 56, 21, 21 (colour illus.).