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Evening Mallacoota West 1924


On Wednesday I left the rock pools of Potato Point to visit the exhibition of Jessie Traill etchings at the National Gallery of Australia. I'd never heard of Jessie Traill, and I know nothing about etchings, but I was enticed by the tranquil etching of Mallacoota, a place familiar and close to home, in “Artonview”. I loved the muted colours, the curves, the sense of light, the balance and the long narrow shape.

It's the first time I've visited the NGA for something other than a blockbuster and the gallery seemed deserted. All the better to stand and contemplate, peering up close with that juggling of bifocals that is my typical gallery manoeuvring. The labels offered a new verbal poetry and a whole array of new ignorances: plate tone with wiped highlight; foul biting; intaglio; soft ground etching; aquatint; mezzotint; dry point; warm black ink.

However, knowledge wasn't necessary for pleasure in the etchings. I was interested in Traill's fascination with the beauty of industrial architecture, something I've experienced, almost against my will, with structures like the brick chimneys at Newtown, the railway viaduct at Manilla and the huge round silos at Binnaway. Her series about the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and her etchings of the Clyde in Scotland used the complex technology of etching to represent other complex technologies, where the aesthetics of form was at one with function.

The great arch, 1932

However, her etchings of landscape were what held my attention. I loved her weavings of ti-tree trunks and branches: what at first glance looked dark and sombre revealed an intricacy and delicacy under closer scrutiny. But what really amazed me was her capacity with light: light through gaps in the trees, light reflecting back from the water, late afternoon light.
My only complaint was the reflective glass. I didn't really want to see a lineup of the frames on the opposite wall superimposed on Melbourne from Richmond paddock.

Ti-tree frieze, centre panel 1910


Good night in the gully where the white gums grow, 1922


Evening Emerald


The drinking man, 1914


Melbourne from Richmond paddock


I left Canberra about 2. The afternoon was rainy and by the time I passed through Braidwood the landscape was grey, misty and atmospheric, a real-world match to the feel of Jessie Traill's etchings.




For a brief biography and a short video, have a look at http://nga.gov.au/traill/