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Bruce Rock, Western Australia, Australia 1923 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 2000

  • England 1963-65

Floating mask 1

[Floating mask]
1943 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil, tempera, resin, enamel on composition board
Primary Insc: signed and dated, l.r., in pencil, ' Early 43 / Perceval '
Dimensions: 58.8 h x 51.2 w cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of Denis Savill 2008
Accession No: NGA 2008.190
Image rights: © John Perceval. Licensed by Viscopy

More detail

John Perceval was a leading member of the Heidelberg School – a group of artists, including Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker and Sidney Nolan, who were at the vanguard of modernist painting in Melbourne in the 1940s. The years 1943 and 1944 were a major peak in Perceval’s painting career, a prolific time during which the artist created disturbing and intense images, often referring back to his own difficult childhood.

Floating mask 1 1943 relates closely to the Gallery’s Boy with cat 2 1943, sharing several elements of Perceval’s personal iconography – most notably, the small boy (an image of the young Perceval) and the cat. Yet, while Boy with cat 2 is powerfully expressionistic, Floating mask 1 is essentially surrealist and primarily concerned with the theme of the unconscious and with nightmares and dreams. A floating, disembodied mask with eyes closed, apparently asleep, hovers in an empty room; a small child looks on, gripping the door with terror; his feline companion rigid with fear. The door becomes the symbolic threshold over which the child dares not cross: the boundary between conscious thought and the irrational realm of dreams and the unconscious mind.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra