Charles Blackman (b.1928)
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Charles Blackman (b.1928)

Prone schoolgirl (1953)

Charles Blackman (b.1928)
Prone schoolgirl (1953)
signed 'BLACKMAN' (lower right)
enamel and graphite on board
32¼ x 40 1/8in. (81.9 x 101.9cm.)
The artist's studio.
with Hal Hattam.
Katherine Hattam, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2001.
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Lot Essay

Charles Blackman loves the in-between times of day, especially the mystery of twilight and early evening when anything can happen. In this mature example of his first major theme of Schoolgirls, the recumbent figure of a uniformed schoolgirl seems poised for take-off across the deserted playground. Faceless under the broad brim of her mushroom hat and with her neck glowing red in the sunset, this pubescent figure is locked into her own shadow. At once complex and ambiguous, her strange configuration of angled and folded limbs and curved pleats contrasts with the neutral facades and blind windows of the buildings beyond - a barrier to the blue sky in the background.

Charles Blackman's subject of uniformed schoolgirls was sparked by his real life environment in Hawthorn, an area peppered with private schools, where his coach-house loft studio backed on to a lane used by uniformed children walking to and from school. The schoolgirl theme also resonated with Blackman's insight into the feminine psyche - a legacy of 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 the Claudine schoolgirl series by Colette. Blackman also absorbed the lyrical verse of semi-blind poet John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942), admiring especially his emotional use of colour:

Blackman's practice of reading aloud to his low-visioned poet and child psychologist wife, Barbara, expanded his imaginative experience by revealing the whole language of human emotions. As he told ABC radio interviewer, Robert Peach, in 1973: "Reading out loud is a different sort of experience to reading to oneself because the savouring of the words and the slowing down of the pace allows images to hang in the air. You absorb things on a different level."

Triggered by the reality of his environment, Blackman's Schoolgirl paintings and drawings are infused with lyricism and with a deep sense of psychology. Dream and reality combine in this series as Blackman's schoolgirls are transformed into different emotional states and identities.

The present painting is related to Prone figure 1953 (MOMA at Heide). It was one of a stack left behind in the Hawthorn coach house loft studio when Blackman sailed to London with his family in 1961 after winning the 1960 Helena Rubenstein Travelling Scholarship. Along with other early paintings, it was rescued c.1962-63 by the artist Fred Williams, a later tenant of the same coach house and loft studio. Passed for storage to Dr Hal Hattam, it remained there until 2001 when it was acquired by the present collector.

We are grateful to Felicity St John Moore for this catalogue entry.

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