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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Judy Cassab

Klimt Head with Nude , 2005, Judy Cassab
In today's world, virtually every area of human endeavor has at least one major award for outstanding achievement. A few, like the Academy Awards (Oscars), the Grammys, and the Tony awards we're somewhat familiar with. Most such awards go largely unnoticed except in the trade magazines associated with that profession. That's largely the case with art as well. In the United States we have the Carnegie Prize. In England, the rough equivalent is the often controversial Turner Prize (Tate Museum), while in other countries there's the Kathe Kollwitz Prize, (Berlin), the Praemium Imperiale (Japan), Prix de Rome (Belgium and Netherlands), and the Lescarbot Award in Canada, to name just a few. In Australia, for painters at least, being accepted into the Archibald Prize competition is the approximate equivalent of an Oscar nomination in the U.S. Winning the prize puts an artist at the very top of the Australian art world. Winning it twice practically turns an artist into something of a national treasure. Judy Cassab won the Archibald twice (1961 and 1968), the only woman to ever do so. Quite apart from her obvious painting skills, sheer persistence pays off too. She was accepted into the competition virtually every year for forty-one years. (She lived to be ninety-five.)

Portraiture with an expressionistic style--new to Australia at the time.
Judy Cassab was born in 1920, in Vienna, Austria. She studied in Prague at the Budapest Academy before obtaining forged papers and 'going underground' to escape the persecution of Hungarian Jews. After the war, she and her husband were reunited and went to Australia. However, Cassab quickly discovered she could not make a living by painting. So, she took up teaching even though she hardly spoke English. She found inspiration for a fairly abstract style of painting in the landscape of the Northern Territory, to which she repeatedly returned. Gradually, she became friends with artists such as Jeffrey Smart, Stanislaus Rapotec and Desiderius Orban. It was her portrait of Rapotec with which she won the 1961 Archibald Prize, becoming the first woman in twenty years to do so. She won again with a portrait of her friend and fellow artist, Margo Lewers, in 1968. The Art Gallery of New South Wales describes these portraits as "...strong paintings which were considered to be the first serious attempts among Archibald entries to bring portraiture into the modern idiom."

In the latter years of her life, Cassab painted few portraits,
favoring mostly nudes (top) and abstract landscapes.
The Archibald Prize for Portraiture has been running annually from 1921 to present In total, 89 prizes have been awarded. A number of artists have won several times, those 89 Archibald Portrait Prizes having been awarded to 53 artists. The competition rules require that all portraits entered be by Australian artists of notable Australians. Many entries have included scientists, educators, writers, and Politians. For the last twenty years, portraits of figures from fine arts (painters painting painters) or entertainment fields have dominated the winning pool.

The Artist's Grandmother. 1932,
Judy Cassab
An artist's family portraits are quite often their best, with Cassab's being no exception as seen in those of her son and grandson (above). One of the artist's earliest works is a drawing of her grandmother (left) dating from 1932, done when she Judy was about twelve years old. She brought it with her from Austria. It hung on the wall of her room at the nursing home where she died in November of 2015.

Desert Shapes with Cave, 1985, Judy Cassab

Not all of Cassab's
paintings were
portraits of abstracts.


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