JW Power and Femme à L’ombrelle

Aug 04, 2020, 10:00 PM
Senior Curator of the University Art Collection, Dr Ann Stephen introduces us to Dr John Joseph Wardell Power (1881-1943), painter, author, medical doctor and philanthropist. In this episode, Ann introduces his life and work by focusing on a single painting, Femme à L’ombrelle (c. 1926), in the Chau Chak Wing Museum collection. JW Power, as he preferred to be known, is renowned in Australian art for his generous bequest to the University of Sydney which aimed to bring the latest ideas about contemporary art to the people of Australia; resulting in the establishment of the Power Institute and the foundation of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

In contrast, his own work as an expatriate Australian artist who spent the 1920s and 30s painting and exhibiting in Europe is little known. Equally at home in London, Paris and Brussels he moved between these cities, immersing himself in both contemporary and historic art. His own hybrid style of painting, part-surreal, part abstract marked him as a member of the international avant-garde. As the renowned dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler recalled “We all knew Power, but we knew him as an artist, we did not know him as a rich man or a surgeon.” His widow Edith Power gifted some 1300 of his works to the university in 1961.

Ann explains why art critic Robert Hughes once commented that, had Power painted these pictures in Australia, “he would possibly be now regarded as the most important figure in our early avant-garde”.

Guest: Dr Ann Stephen, Senior Curator of the University Art Collection and chair of Art Monthly Australasia. Ann's research focuses on modernism and conceptual art and she is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Host: Dr Craig Barker, Manager of Education and Public Programs, Chau Chak Wing Museum and Director, Paphos Theatre Archaeological Excavations. Follow @DrCraig_B on Twitter and Instagram.

Artwork details: JW Power, Femme à L’ombrelle (c. 1926), oil on canvas 130 x 79 cm, JW Power collection, University of Sydney, managed by Museum of Contemporary Art, Edith Power bequest 1961, PW1961.83.

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