Michael Illingworth

Flower Painting

1968
oil on canvas
384mm x 280mm

signed Illingworth, dated 68 and inscribed Flower painting in ink verso; inscribed 2 in conte upper left verso

Provenance

Private Collection, Auckland.

Exhibitions

Little Paintings, Big Pots: Michael Illingworth, Barry Brickell, Barry Lett Galleries, Auckland, 9 – 25 December 1968.

Essay

In 1968, at the peak of his reputation and notoriety, Michael Illingworth painted a series of small oils of flowers. The humble flower might seem an unlikely subject for a young...

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Estimate $15,000 - $20,000
Achieved $21,574.00

Michael Illingworth

Flower Painting

1968

oil on canvas

signed Illingworth, dated 68 and inscribed Flower painting in ink verso; inscribed 2 in conte upper left verso

384mm x 280mm

Auction N˚3

Estimate $15,000 - $20,000

Achieved $21,574.00

Footnotes
  1. Letter to Peter McLeavey, 14 July (1986), Peter McLeavey archive.
  2. Kate Coughlan, ‘Sometimes cold on the feet: pauper painter likes good life’, Dominion, 16 June 1980, p. 5.
  3. Letter from Peter McLeavey to Michael Illingworth, 6 June 1967, Peter McLeavey archive. The seventeen works in the exhibition were purchased by one collector.

Flower Painting

by Jill Trevelyan

In 1968, at the peak of his reputation and notoriety, Michael Illingworth painted a series of small oils of flowers. The humble flower might seem an unlikely subject for a young male artist in New Zealand at the time, but to Illingworth it was a powerful symbol. The flower represented the world of nature: pure, abundant and redemptive.

Illingworth championed an idealistic, back-to-nature philosophy which was part of the broader 1960s counter-culture. Only by living close to nature, he believed, was it possible to escape the spiritual alienation of modern life and flourish as an artist. He described his creativity in mystical terms in a letter to his dealer, Peter McLeavey: “I am flowering in the light and from my bud petals are opening all round . . . I mean to make this flower a fine one that is assured of pollination and good seed.”¹ Perhaps it is not too far-fetched to see this painting as a self-portrait.

In any case, the flower—like Illingworth himself—is irrepressible. It radiates energy and optimism with its brilliant yellow centre and brisk green petals. The landscape is merely a supporting act—a gently rolling horizon that echoes the curve of the blood-red earth. Flower painting has the vitality of a child’s drawing in its crisply outlined forms and striking colour, and Illingworth himself would have enjoyed the comparison. “I’d like to think I have the eyes of a child,” he once remarked.²

But the technique—the patient layering of thin oil paint—is that of a meticulous craftsman. And the image is more complex than it initially appears: a tightly cropped composition with the flower just off-centre, and a delicate balance of straight and curving lines.

Illingworth’s flower “portraits” of 1968 include several variations on this format. The most anthropomorphic have stylised human facial features, while another, the whimsical Pylon flower, fuses symbols of nature and industry. Elsewhere, flowers are not uncommon in his work, and are featured in paintings such as Man and woman figures with still life and flowers (1971) in the Auckland Art Gallery collection. The spiky yellow-pronged flowers in that work are simplified versions of the one shown here.