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Rupert Bunny: Artist in Paris


Deborah Edwards, et al


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Deborah Edwards et al, Rupert Bunny: Artist in Paris (Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2009), First Edition, catalogue of the 2009-2010 exhibition at AGNSW, Sydney; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Small quarto, 28.7 cm (height) x 24.5 cm (width), 224 pages, many colour plates and b/w photographs; Director’s Foreword, several essays, Biographical notes, Rupert Bunny’s materials, List of works, Bunny’s work in French public collections, Notes, Select bibliography, Acknowledgments, Index. Full colour covers illustrated with Bunny paintings, weight: 1.39 kg.

Condition: As new.


Born in Melbourne to the barrister Brice Bunny and his wife Marie, née Wulsten, Rupert Charles Wulsten Bunny (1864-1947) was educated in Melbourne, Hobart, Germany and Switzerland. After false starts (in engineering at the University of Melbourne and family opposition to a career in acting), Rupert began studies with Campbell and Folingsby at Melbourne’s National Gallery School, where fellow students included Frederick McCubbin, E. Phillips Fox and Louis Abrahams. Aged 20, Rupert Bunny moved to London, enrolling in PH Calderon’s art school, and in 1886 travelled to Paris to study under Jean-Paul Laurens. From 1888, Bunny exhibited at the Old Salon, becoming the first Australian painter to receive a mention honorable. He also began exhibiting at galleries and societies in London, and at the New Salon in Paris. Between 1902 and World War 1, the French government bought many of Bunny’s paintings for the Jeu de Paume and other public galleries.

Rupert Bunny’s first work to enter an Australian Gallery was ‘Sea Idyll’, presented to the National Gallery of Victoria in 1892 by Alfred Felton, who on his death in 1904 also bequeathed Bunny a life annuity. Rupert Bunny spent nearly half a century in France, from 1886 to 1933 when he returned permanently to Australia after the death earlier in 1933 of his wife, Jeanne Morel. This long absence from Australia, except for successful exhibiting visits to Melbourne and Sydney (1911 and the 1920s) meant that his work was little known here. His main professional colleagues in Paris were French and American painters. Though enjoying critical acclaim in Paris, and recognised as one of the most successful expatriate painters of his generation, Bunny declined French citizenship.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Bunny’s work developed from large, ideal subjects from classical mythology and the Bible to paintings of women, landscapes and portraiture, influenced by neo-Classicism and Pre-Raphaelitism. His lifelong interest in music is visible in portraits of musicians, in particular Nellie Melba, Percy Grainger and Ada Crossley. Regularly attending the theatre and concerts, Bunny also frequented prominent literary and artistic salons, and knew Sarah Bernhardt well. During WW1, Bunny’s work in the American Hospital in Paris affected him deeply. He returned to the classics, producing a brilliant series of mythological decorations that are among his finest works. These new decorative compositions reached their fullest expression in the 1920s with stylistic influences ranging from classical Greek art, through Puvis de Chavannes, Art Nouveau and Fauvism, to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Bunny also returned to painting landscapes, especially lyrical views of the south of France.

Post-1933 in Melbourne, Bunny devoted time to music, composing several ballets. In 1946 the National Gallery of Victoria’s major Retrospective of his work was the first time the Gallery paid such an honour to a living Australian painter. Rupert Bunny died on 25 May 1947 in a private hospital in Melbourne.

The exhibition curator and author of this catalogue’s main essay, Deborah Edwards, draws heavily on the original research and criticism of many Gallery Directors, curators, art historians and art critics, including Mary Eagle, David Thomas, Barbara Kane, Roger Butler, Jan Minchin, Jane Clark, Clive Turnbull, and Desmond and Bettina MacAulay. Informed and expert contributions are made in catalogue essays by Denise Mimmocchi, Anne Gérard, David Thomas, Simon Ives and Andrea Nottage.