Painted in 1903, soon after Tudor St George Tucker returned to Europe in 1899, this painting is decidedly non-Australian in its colour: Tucker used white paint freely, while employing a brushy gestural technique to define the textures of different forms. He captured the effects of light and shade on a homely, domestic scene.
The enclosed courtyard garden’s towering cream walls cut out the sky and contrast with the round clumps of vivid green nasturtiums and climbing plants. Sunlight dapples through the unseen foliage of the tree, adding movement and immediacy to the composition. The brightly lit diagonal path leads the eye to the two figures, placed in the middle distance, each defined by its own space. Posed in the tradition of 19th-century academic painting, the woman leans against the doorway and a brown clad older man smokes while seated. Dominated by the luminous shadow, sunlight and the mass of nasturtiums, their apparent lack of communication conveys a sense of separation and sadness.
Born in England, Tucker came to Australia for health reasons when he was nearly 20. He studied at the National Gallery School in Melbourne, then departed for Europe where he met E. Phillips Fox. When he returned to Australia in 1892, he joined Fox in running the Melbourne School of Art. With an emphasis on drawing from a live model, painting outdoors and the use of bright colour broadly and rapidly applied, these artists offered a popular alternative to the conventional teaching provided by the Gallery School.
Jenny Manning 2002
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002