Lot 52 | Auction XXXIII


LOT 52


B. Australia, 1925 – 2006

Phoenix, 1971

Signed Coburn (lr), signed John Coburn, dated Paris 1971 and inscribed as titled on the reverse

Gouache on paper

55 x 76 cm

Provenance Private Collection, Singapore

RM 25,000 – RM 50,000


John Coburn was born in 1926 in the sugar town of Ingham, north Queensland. He was an Australian abstract painter, teacher, tapestry designer and printmaker. In 1942, at the age of 17, he joined the navy where he became a radio operator. At the war’s end, he returned to a bank job in far western Queensland but after only a few months he fled to Sydney intending to enrol as a full-time art student under the Ex-Servicemen’s Rehabilitation Scheme at the East Sydney Technical College in Darlinghurst (later to become the National Art School). He graduated in 1952 and became a teacher at the art school before joining the ABC as a graphic designer between 1956 and 1959.

He held his first one-man show in 1957 at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Melbourne. A year later, he held his first exhibition with legendary Melbourne dealers Anne and Thomas ‘Tam’ Purves at Australian Galleries, and has been represented by Australian in Melbourne ever since, although for three years he had struck up a successful exhibiting relationship with Vic Stafford’s Armadale gallery, Axia Modern Art.

In 1966, his career took a momentous detour when he was invited to design tapestries for the world-renowned Aubusson Workshops, 250 kilometres south of Paris. He moved to France three years later to live in the Paris suburb of Croissy-sur-Seine and achieved almost immediate fame with his designs for the ‘Curtain of the Sun’ and ‘Curtain of the Moon’ for the new Sydney Opera House, while a series of seven tapestries, ‘The Creation’, presented to the USA as a gift from the Australian Government, was hung in the John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington. Coburn had been painting for the past half a century according to a simple philosophy: “I want to express my feelings about nature and the world.” Adopting religious and spiritual themes in his pursuit of abstract art as his mode of expression had obliged Coburn to pursue a lonely course, apart from the mainstream of post-war Australian painters. It was only later, when the consistency of his approach had been appreciated and his paintings achieved greater depth and colour, that his reputation spread and wider recognition been accorded. He was widely held as one of Australia’s foremost abstract artists.

Where To Find His Works John Coburn is represented in collections of the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of NSW, Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome’s Vatican Museum, Vienna’s Graphische Sammlung Albertina, as well as state and regional galleries in Australia. Many important works were commissioned by The Christensen Fund in Perth and they are regularly on exhibition there. His ‘Death and Transfiguration’ is in the Federal Parliament’s collection and the PercTucker Regional Gallery in Townsville holds ‘Desert Ceremony’ which recalls an aboriginal corroboree. His three-panelled ‘Primordial Garden’ is in the National Gallery of Victoria while the Art Gallery of NSW holds ‘Tree of Life I’, ‘Song of the Earth’, ‘They Gave Him Vinegar Mixed with Gall’, ‘Setting Sun’, ‘Ku-ring-gai’ and ‘Tribe’ which he donated after the death of his first wife, Barbara. Coburn died on Nov 7, 2006 in Sydney.