Sleeping Schoolgirl is one of the penultimate schoolgirl paintings, closely related to Floating Schoolgirl (1954) in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. In these mature paintings Blackman's schoolgirls become larger and more dreamlike and the spaces around them more deserted. In the present picture, the broad-brimmed 'flying saucer' hat seems poised for take-off over the wall, barely restrained by the long fingers of her outstretched limb. The precociousness of this hat contrasts with the mystery of her enigmatic figure, its uniformed body folded within her shadow in the foreground, stockinged legs tucked up, school shoes buckled, one eye glinting. Above her folded image, the dark band of horizon presses the eerie field in which the tooth-like edge of her tunic, akin to a moonlit tent, pierces the middle ground.
Charles Blackman's theme of schoolgirls was sparked by his real life environment in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn, an area of private schools where his coach-house-stable studio backed on to a lane used by children walking to and fro. The schoolgirl theme also resonated with Blackman's insight into the feminine psyche -- a legacy of his vivid childhood memories of his mother and sisters. These emotional memories were revived through his reading of the literature of childhood fantasy, with the emphasis on mainly French novels of adolescent eroticism, such as Ripening Seed by Colette. Feelings such as guilt, fear and sexuality are represented voyeuristically through the adolescent and metamorphic (mushroom-hatted) figures located in timeless settings.
We are grateful to Felicity St John Moore for this catalogue entry.