Charles Blackman's paintings have the feeling and weightlessness of dreams or poetry rather than of the reality of family life from which they emerged. Here the stirring sleeping child with incandescent hair and blotchy cheeks is recognizable as Christabel, his two-year old daughter. This evocative image of childhood was painted in Blackman's mezzanine studio in Jackson's Lane, Highgate in the year of his arrival from Australia on a Helena Rubenstein Travelling Scholarship.
Angled across the diagonal composition, the sloping half-figure of the sleeping child hovers above the loosely brushed ground within a black border; her bud-like face, wavering arm and glowing features seem almost to sprout from the vibrant stalk of her blue-green torso. This daughter is asleep on her own shadow -- a shadow that is also a memory of the darkly silhouetted adolescents and older girls who haunted Blackman's earlier paintings, such as the large Suites of 1959-60.
Child was included in Blackman's first London solo exhibition, of which Bryan Robertson wrote (in his catalogue foreword), 'He has made icons from the commonplace material of contemporary life. The fragile gestures and spontaneous movements among people are caught and made eloquent'. Relevantly to our picture, he also praised the balance between 'the tenderness and grace of the imagery' and the 'fiercely implacably controlled means'. This was the same successful exhibition that prompted the Eric Newton epithet 'big, tough and tender' which stuck for Australian art in general.
We are grateful to Felicity St John Moore for this catalogue entry.