Rupert Bunny
'Who comes?' c. 1908
John B. Pye Bequest 1963

Who comes? is one of a series of works called 'Days and Nights in August', painted by Rupert Bunny between 1907 and 1911, which evoke a mood of intimacy and luxurious leisure; of perfume, poetry and distant music. The colours in Who comes? are few -- white, black, brown, red, yellow -- and they have been orchestrated so that small colour accents are played off against a basic theme. Warm sunlight, filtering through a boldly striped blind, colours the upper part of the picture, whereas in the half-light below the blind the flounced skirts shimmer translucently.

Bunny's chief model, posing for both figures in this painting, was his wife Jeanne. She was 'a beautiful French woman and her husband delighted to paint her in the long, flounced and flowing dresses of the period. Once he said, with faint distaste: "When short skirts came in I no longer wanted to paint women"'. (1)

The drapery has been painted in a way that has little relation to the bodies beneath. One reviewer in 1911 explained Bunny's preference for loose drapery as a way of capturing or complementing the indefiniteness of nature, 'leaving forms and outlines in a state of indecision and flux'. (2) In contrast to the geometry of the striped blind, Bunny's rendering of filmy cloth breaks the shapes so that the attention goes not to outlines and large areas but to surfaces and small accents. The effect is sensuous. Bunny was portraying a luxurious domesticity which, in the fashion terms of the day, was well represented by the tea-gown: 'It gives a man a sort of luxurious feel of being an Oriental Pasha, as he lies in his chair, smoking the ever-present cigarette, to see himself surrounded by graceful houris clad in gauze and gorgeous draperies shimmering'. (3) Marcel Proust wrote at length on the same theme in A la recherche du temps perdu (1913--27) and, like Bunny, he lamented the passing of this excessively feminine style with the coming of the First World War.

Mary Eagle (4)

(1) Lucy Swanton, 'Memoir of Rupert Bunny', typescript, [Sydney]: Newcastle Region Art Gallery, 1968.

(2) Melbourne Argus, 24 July 1911, p.7.

(3) 'Lamia' in London Country Life, 28 September 1907.

(4) Mary Eagle, The Art of Rupert Bunny, Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1991, p.64.

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

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Australian Art

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The National Gallery of Australia's collection of Australian art reflects its unique national responsibility to present the story of visual art in Australia.

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The National Gallery of Australia's collection of Australian art reflects its unique national responsibility to present the story of visual art in Australia.

The collection includes works of consistently high quality and outstanding aesthetic merit -- works by artists from all Australian states and territories and by Australian artists working overseas, as well as works by artists living for a time in Australia. The wide-ranging collection of the work of Indigenous artists from all regions and urban areas of Australia is covered under Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.

The Gallery's permanent displays of Australian art are presented in an integrated and broadly chronological arrangement of works from the earliest colonial period to the present day: paintings and sculptures, works on paper, photographs and other photomedia, decorative arts and design. Because of New Zealand's geographical and historical proximity to Australia, works by New Zealand artists are collected selectively and often displayed alongside Australian works.

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