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The rabbiter and his family Theme: Boom & Bust

Artist: Russell DRYSDALE
Birth/Death: 1912–1981

Title: The rabbiter and his family

Credit Line: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

The rabbiter and his family is an early painting by Russell Drysdale, made in 1938 when he was a student of George Bell in Melbourne. It was here that he came into contact with reproductions of the work of European modernists, the influence of which can be seen in this painting.

The backlit sky silhouetting the undulating hills behind the grey trees creates a rather ominous atmosphere in what is otherwise an almost comical painting. It is the contrast between the mood of this painting and the way it is painted that we find intriguing.

Drysdale’s stylised approach, bright colours, cheerful patterns, scratching dog and bedroom slippers contrast with the desolate poverty of this large family. They stand formally as if posing for a photograph, each person exhibiting characteristic body language. The father, in the centre, keeping his family together; the mother holding her baby protectively; the boy with defensively crossed arms, the little girls stand with angled bare feet and dangling arms.


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