Grace Crowley’s modernist credentials were impeccable. A student of the French cubist painter André Lhote from 1927 to 1929, in 1929 she also took lessons with Albert Gleizes, a more significant figure within the cubist movement whose influence upon her was to be profound. After four years study in Paris, Crowley returned to Sydney in 1930. Against a backdrop of parochialism and suspicion of modern art, Crowley together with Rah Fizelle opened an art school in the Rocks which became the focus for progressive art in Sydney during the 1930s. By the late 1930s Crowley had formed a close partnership with the painter Ralph Balson and from this time onwards their work developed in tandem. While both artists had been experimenting with abstraction from the figure, by 1942 they had abandoned representation completely, instead creating images which were completely non-referential using geometrical forms. Together, Crowley and Balson pioneered abstraction in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. This work is one of her most accomplished abstract paintings. Through her manipulation of colour and tonal values she has created the illusion of semi-transparent forms suspended in a shallow space. There is a sense of gentle movement, yet the composition is held together by a dynamic balance of forms and colours. While at the time Crowley and Balson’s abstract paintings were virtually ignored within Australia, their outlook was always international, and these works are more properly considered within the context of the resurgence of geometric abstraction within European art in the post-war era.
Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia