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Sunday, July 16, 2017

James Muir Auld

Landscape, 1939, James Muir Auld
There's probably not an artist among us who hasn't almost won an award in some art competition. There are those who would contend that coming in second automatically makes one a loser. Others would counter that not competing...not making an attempt is the mark of a loser. Likewise, any artist who has competed for a prize likely has a story about a biased judge, a poorly hung painting, or some other circumstance which precluded their taking home a blue ribbon (or tall trophy). For instance, I once had a painting which came in second place. The winning entry was a quilt. Now I ask you, is that fair? Okay, it was a very nice quilt, but still, why should I, as a painter, have to compete against an artist with needle and thread? The reason for this artistic injustice had to do with the fact that the organizers of the show failed to sponsor a "soft art" (for lack of a better term) category; and the judge was so impressed by the quilter's skill and imagination, he insisted upon giving her an award. So he lumped her quilt in with the painting category. It took me a while to live down having come in second to a quilt.
Auld's Archibald entry is at lower-left.
Although there were no quilts involve, I'm sure the Australian painter, James Muir Auld, knew something of the same disappointment I encounter some forty years later. First a little background. Since 1921, the most prestigious prize an Australian portrait artist can win is the fabled Archibald Prize, awarded each year by Australia's Art Gallery of New South Wales for the best portrait by an Australian artist of an outstanding citizen of that country. In 1929, James Muir Auld took a look in a mirror and decided he fit both requirements. He submitted a self-portrait. Though the entry no doubt raised a few eyebrows (no artist had ever done that before) the judges not only accepted his dual premise, but also made Auld a finalist in the competition. That, alone, was a considerable achievement. He was awarded second place.
Portrait of Kitty, James Muir Auld.
(I think this is the artist's wife, Maggie Kate.)
No doubt disappointed, James Auld never entered the competition again even as he saw other artist submit, and win the competition in the years that followed. Henry Hanke won the Archibald prize five years later in 1934 with a self-portrait as did Normand Baker, Ivor Hele, Brett Whiteley, Wendy Sharpe, Euan McLeod, John Olsen, Del Kathryn Barton, and, as recently as 2012, Tim Storrier. In any case, Auld continued to paint portraits (even coming in second boosts an artist's career). He also embraced impressionist landscapes (top) and genre scenes such as The Broken Vase (below).
The Broken Vase, James Muir Auld.
Auld exhibited frequently with the Society of Artists, Sydney, of which he was a member. In the 1920s he joined the well-known commercial art firm, Smith & Julius, where he illustrated several books. In 1931 he moved to Thirlmere, south-west of Sydney, where he spent the rest of his life alone—eschewing even a radio in his small cottage. However, it was there he painted the best of his landscapes, achieving a deep penetration into the mysteries of light and shade. He was awarded the 1935 Wynne Prize for Winter Morning (below), a study of trees and sky which had a stimulating sense of wind, and flying clouds illustrating the artist's partial adoption of the palette knife. Auld had three one-man exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, in 1928, 1936 and 1938, and had also exhibited in London and Paris. He was a foundation member of the Australian Academy of Art in 1938.

Winter Morning, 1935, James Muir Auld
(Remember, the seasons are reversed in Australia.)
Auld died of tuberculosis in June of 1942. His estate was valued at £52 (less than $200). Today Auld's paintings are numbered in the collections of museums in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Armidale and Manly. Auld's painting Manly (below) is representative of the artist's affection for seascapes.

Manly, James Muir Auld

The Cameo, James Muir Auld

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