Rupert Bunny: Australia's First Internationally Acclaimed Artist

I just couldn't resist this obvious segue! Rupert Charles Wulsten Bunny (1864–1947) was an Australian painter who did however spend most of his life painting in Europe. Any time I look at his works I am amazed at the contradictions that appear in his styles. Let's see what we can learn about his works. He started learning to paint at what was to become the Victorian Collage of the Arts (founded in 1867, it was originally called The National Gallery of Victoria Art School). Studying with Rupert were Frederick McCubbin and Louis Abrahams. (Follow these link to read the Blogs about McCubbin and especially Louis Abrahams, painter and patron of the Heidelberg School painters.) The earliest painting by Rupert Bunny that I could find was Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (circa 1887). Sorry about the poor quality but I want you to see how much his style changes.
Rupert left Australia in 1884 and first attended The St John's Wood Art School (North London, UK) being taught by A. A. Calderon (1847-1911). I believe Vanessa Bell ( the sister of Virginia Woolf and also a member of the Bloomsbury Group) was also a teacher at the school. Rupert’s Dans Du Printemps (Spring-Dance) was painted about 1889 which would have been at the end of his time in London or beginning of his move to France. It seems to my eye that he was being influenced by the PreRaphaelites who were very active in London at this time and I think planted the seed of Symbolism in his works. You might not have heard of the French Symbolist painters but I am sure you have heard of Paul Gauguin and James Abbott McNeill Whistler both of whom were considered to be Symbolist painters. The influence of the Symbolists can be seen in many of Bunny's works as they were far more concerned with imagination than reality, the inner self rather than the outside world.

Rupert Bunny left England to study in Paris under the tutelage of Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921), a French painter and sculptor, and one of the last major exponents of the French Academic style. Bunny made his mark with his painting Tritons which won an honourable mention at the Paris Salon in 1890 and a complete change in his style and very different to what was being produced at this time. Rupert Bunny was the first Australian painter to be recognised in this way and became Australia's first internationally acclaimed artist. In 1900 he won another prize, this time a bronze medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle for Burial of St Catherine of Alexandria, painted in about 1896 and once again a change in style.
And around the same time (in 1895) he painted The Forerunners with its unconventional subject matter. The one common thread running through his paintings is a reference to a spiritual or perhaps more accurately a mythological world.
However, looking at these paintings, it is hard to believe that they are the works of the same person. But I like this about the painters of this time. They were constantly searching for a new direction, a more satisfying perception of the way they saw the world. Nowadays I find many of our young artists discover a medium, a subject matter, a style and automatically slide into what often looks like products from a production line.

Back to Rupert Bunny who, in the 1890s, spent a great deal of time painting in Hungary. Pastorale (c.1893) was from all accounts painted in Hungary. I have a feeling that this painting is part of the National Gallery of Victoria Collection. And again I can see touches of Pre-Raphaelitism in some of his works. We discussed this style briefly a while back when we discussed William Morris and his wife Jane Morris.
It is likely that his Summer Afternoon was also painted in Hungary. In one analysis I read of the painting, it is believed that the figures were added at a later stage to the landscape. This makes me think that Bunny was constantly searching for a composition, a style that he felt comfortable with.
Around the turn of the C19th to C20th major upheavals were occurring in all facets of our world and the art world was no exception. We have begun to discuss these changes in art through Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Cubism through to the Modernists. Rupert also seems to undergo a dramatic change in the style after 1901 when he left the Paris Old Salon for the new Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. At first he had been influenced by the traditional style of Laurens but he turns away from subject matter drawn from the Bible and mythology to portraiture and landscapes. His portraits are beautifully executed as shown here in a painting (c. 1902) of his wife Jeanne Heloise Morel.
And of course he had to paint Nellie Melba as Rupert had a keen interest in music himself.
His best works are considered to be those he painted in the early 1900s. They include Après le Bain purchased for the Jeu de Paume gallery.
Endormies which hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria. And A Summer Morning. In all his paintings the idealisation of women seems to be paramount in his endeavours.
Bunny returned to Australia in 1911 but went back to Paris in 1912 and I have read he worked in the American Hospital and painted some of the terrible scenes from WW1. I will do my research and include him in our War Artists which I will start tackling soon.
After WW1 Bunny seems to have returned to his interest in paintings derived from mythology and the imaginative world.
After his wife died in 1933, Rupert returned to live in Melbourne and continued to exhibit. However, he spent more time on his interest in music and composed several ballets before his death in 1947. He would have to be described as an eclectic painter as his style and subject matter was so wide ranging. I'm not a fan of the Rupert Bunny paintings in the main. But I do like some of his landscapes. So let's sign off with a couple. The first is Blue Day, Bandol (c 1929)
And this is Fisherman's Houses, Port Vendres (c.1926).

I cant resist including the fact that Rupert Bunny exhibited at the Bendigo Victorian Gold Jubilee Exhibition of 1901-02. Unfortunately I can't find the names of any relevant paintings but I can show you his painting that still hangs in the Bendigo Art Gallery. It is titled The Sun Bath. Sorry about the grainy texture. And no I'm not censoring the nudes!

Thank You to everyone who complimented me on the Blogs over Easter and Passover. From all accounts a great success. One subscriber from Canberra went as far as to visit Bendigo to see Sun Loong the dragon which I thought was pretty amazing. Several people commented on the Temple Beth Israel Pesach Window including our UK subscriber and a local subscriber who has sung there regularly. Please follow this link to view all the magnificent windows at this synagogue.
And finally to all the bunny lovers - I am delighted you enjoyed the cartoons even if yesterday's reminded you of how many chocolates you should not have eaten. And a reminder to A to feed that rabbit while the family is away.

Tomorrow? Piers! Where would we be without them!

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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