Canvas Conversations

What would Miller say seeing his conversations come up in the Auction houses going into collections that may or may not be able to interpret his language?

Sotheby’s Australia Sydney 23 November 2010, Lot 48: Figure Group, Sold $42,000 incl buyers premium $50,400 Note on artist Dr David Hansen

Figure Group Sotheby's Australia Sydney 23 Nov 2010

‘I can’t tell you of pictures I paint in principles’ Letter to Madeline Webb, Undated estimate 1950s, in box MSS 2719 ‘truth and the interest for a painter’ Letter to Madeline Webb 16/5/1955 MSS 2719

Menzies Australia Melbourne 15 December 2010, Lot 114: Early Landscape, price range $3,200-$4000

‘You’ll be surprised and join with others in thinking me mad but I am to be found living in a one roomed house in the country [Warrandyte, Vic] and rarely to be seen in Melbourne streets. I have left the architecture for a time and am totally rapped up with the charms of the sister art of landscape painting’ Letter to Arthur Fenwick 30 May 1922, Vol 7 in the Mitchell Wing of the State Library of NSW

In another letter he writes about the difficulty of letting a painting go and once it is gone needing to recognise the absence and move on to other things. Artists I interview worry they are becoming more like Miller when they find themselves reaching into their racks for a painting 20 years old and now knowing what it needs – the conversations are on a continuum.

Miller’s notorious habit of reworking canvases infuriated Patrick White when trying to purchase  ‘Nude with Moon’ and according to David Marr, ‘White courted the painter with eggs and oranges (I think the Lavertys became the beneficiaries of the oranges) brought down from Castle Hill.’ Miller furthered his reworking and painted over the thoughts White had loved so much. For Miller the conversational flow on this canvas was incomplete and seriously interrupted in 1959 with the tension he felt over the Melbourne NGV exhibition of his work. He writes of this in a letter to White dated 22/10/59 Vol 9. White did go on to use aspects of both John Passmore and Miller for his character, Hurtle Duffield in his book the ‘Vivisector’ published in 1970. This fusion is interesting as from most accounts neither man had a lot to say to each other although they did share a mutual respect and Miller is reported to have gone down to the quay to see Passmore off on his voyage to Italy [one interviewee said America] made possible by the Helena Rubinstein Prize. He arrived late and stood amongst Passmore’s friends devastated that Passmore had already boarded.

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