Leonard Joel

A contemporary perspective


DORRIT BLACK (1891-1951)
Wisteria, Wentworth House 1930-31
colour linocut on thin laid paper, ed. 10/50
printed from four blocks
22.5 x 32cm

A contemporary perspective

Influential modernist, Dorrit Black was a thoroughly progressive individual who broke ground as one of the first Australian artists to understand Cubism and succeed in creating original Cubist works rather than homages. She also distinguished herself in boldly embracing modern mediums, notably the linocut.

We are delighted to share with you Wisteria, Wentworth House, an exceptional example of her printmaking oeuvre in our upcoming Women Artists auction; and to celebrate the work of an Australian artist who is only now, gaining the popularity she so rightly deserves.

Black, infused with a liberal sensibility, belonged to a generation of post-Victorian era women, alongside Margaret Preston, Grace Cossington-Smith and Grace Cowley, who took risks by travelling overseas to pursue careers in the arts, often without the approval of their families. In a letter to her brother in 1938, she wrote, ‘‘after more than 20 years of struggling to make an artist of myself, I cannot give it all up and settle down to being nothing but a good sister and daughter.’

Black studied in Paris and also in London with the
British printmaker Walter Claude Flight, who
pioneered and popularised the linoleum cut
technique. The linocut, in its very practice, is inherently modern, and allowed artists to emphasise formal pictorial arrangement, with simplified forms, bold lines, and vibrant colour.  Black is said to be
the first Antipodean artist to experiment with the medium.

In 1932, she opened the Modern Art Centre in
Sydney and offered tuition in colour linocutting
further propogating/ developing, pioneering its popularity here.

Black also continued to exhibit her prints, nationally and abroad, spurred on by the encouragement of her mentor Claude Flight, who wrote that “I shall burst into tears and drink my bath water if you don’t send some [prints]”[1].

London’s Redfern Gallery was a major exponent of Black’s art, holding eight exhibitions including the 1931 solo show featuring Wisteria, Wentworth House. The subject was inspired by the renowned springtime display of wisteria at the former home of early-colonial politician and lawyer William Charles Wentworth. Visiting the beautiful grounds of the property now known as Vaucluse House to admire the gardens became an early 20th century form of pilgrimage – ‘a lodestone to all good Australians’.[2]

Wisteria, Wentworth House is a beautiful example of Black’s carefully balanced asymmetrical arrangements, controlled colour palette and bold compositional choices, but most significantly it is one of her most radically abstract images. The work is remarkable for its unusual and very contemporary perspective achieved through Black’s placement of a large tree branch compressed into the foreground, framing the wider landscape beyond, a visual device of the masters of Japanese woodblock prints, Hokusai and Hiroshinge.  Distinguishing this linocut even further is that to date it is the only known version of this image in existence.

We are delighted to share with you such a striking and special example of Dorrit Black’s work in our upcoming Women Artists auction, as we celebrate the life of a singular artist whose work is finally gaining the recognition it deserves.

Ella Perrottet
Assistant Researcher


[1] Claude Flight letter to Dorrit Black, 8 June 1931?, AGSA Research Library, Dorrit Black Papers)

[2] (Freedman’s Journal, 27 September 1923).


Melbourne Enquiries
Sophie Ullin
National Head of Art
03 8825 5609 | 0407 360 513

Sydney Enquiries
Jane Messenger
Art Specialist
02 9362 9045

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