“For the recuperation of body and mind, there is nothing better than natural therapy – sand, sunshine and surf.”
The crescent-shaped beaches that define Sydney's East Coast are no more topographically extraordinary than the countless other sandy shores sprinkled along the Australian seaboard. What distinguishes them, however, is the way in which we relate and interact within these places. The intimate, and nostalgically familiar memories associated with those golden sandy banks of Bondi and Coogee are what eventually brought them to the center of the Australian psyche. Indeed, since the nineteenth century, Australians have been naturally drawn to the city beaches. Remarkably, however, it was not until 1902, when New South Wales lifted the prohibition on daytime bathing, that Australians earnestly took to the waters, as it were. This heralded a national trend of sun worshiping, surfing and weekend idling; inviting nineteenth and early-twentieth century artists to begin capturing, through painting and photography, this growing trend.
Though photographers such as Henry King, Charles Kerry, and Harold Cazneaux were among the first to record locals kicking about the sandy plains, no artist captured Australia's booming beach culture more memorably – or in equal breadth – than Max Dupain. Although at times he was purely interested in the non-figurative plays of light and shade, the contrasts between the wet and dry sand, or the formal qualities of the waves or coastline, Dupain's most enduring images are those which capture the fleeting moment of human activities. The Sunbaker 1937, a close up of a head and shoulders of a recumbent male, with all its flawless grace, is by now as engrained in Australian popular imagery as other famous and iconic works of art. Other celebrated works from the Dupain collection include the cheeky wedgie-picking shot of Bondi 1939, the 1940s 'proto-Marilyn' wind up the white skirt in Stiff Nor' easter, and the casual depiction of bathers At Newport 1952.
Dupain's beach scenes are highly regarded and rank among his most interesting images. It is exciting to see his key works on this subject in Mossgreen's auction catalogue.