Good Weekend Art Column

Mary Tonkin – Australian Galleries, Melbourne

Published August 3, 2019
Mary Tonkin, 'Ramble Kalorama' (detail)

Artist: Mary Tonkin

Lives: Olinda, Victoria

Age: 46

Represented by:Australian Galleries, Melbourne & Sydney.

Her thing.Immersive paintings of the forest, created en plein air.

Our take.Most artists will take a sketchpad or a small canvas to paint outdoors but Mary Tonkin regularly lugs panels of 90cm by 180cm into the forest near her home in the Dandenongs. She tries to capture the experience of being surrounded by dense undergrowth, with light filtering through the leaves and branches creating delicate patterns of brightness and shadow.

Like Monet, Tonkin has set out to paint the same motif again and again, in every season and every sort of daylight. She has painted the forest ravaged by bushfires, and blooming with new life. The highlight of her exhibition, Ramble, at Australian Galleries is her masterpiece to date: a 21-panel painting called Ramble: Kalorama(2017-19). This gigantic work has taken two years to complete, but represents the culimination of a decade’s work in the forest. It’s a museum piece, with a price to match.

The only worthwhile comparison is with Queenslander, Wiliam Robinson, who is Tonkin’s senior by almost 40 years, and has largely given up landscape at this late stage of his career. On the strength of this show one could easily argue that Tonkin is the most ambitious landscape artist at work in Australia today.

Can I afford it?

Unless you’re seriously wealthy you shouldn’t go hankering for Ramble: Kalorama(21 panels, each 90cm by 180cm), which is priced at $495,000. Included in that price is a large drawing, also called Ramble, Kalorama(57cm by 626cm). This represents a big advance on Tonkin’s record price to date, of $95,000, but if one accepts that’s $23,571.43 per panel, plus drawing, it provides a more accurate guide as to what one of Tonkin’s stand-alone paintings might cost. The cheapest work in the show is a small oil painting, Waves, Kalorama(42cm by 39cm), at a paltry $6,000.

Where can I have a squiz?

Australian Galleries, 23 Derby St., Collingwood, Melbourne

23 July – 11 August, 2019.


Published in The Good Weekend, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 August, 2019