John Brack’s Self Portrait

John Brack is renowned for his images that explore the discipline of art and the social rituals and realities of everyday living. His paintings and drawings of urban and suburban Melbourne made during the 1950s received immediate attention for their novelty of subject and readily identifiable references. 

Striking in its candour, with its subject stripped of vanity and dressed in early-morning attire, Self portrait is a piercing study of a man engaged in the intimacy of shaving. Although images of women at their toilette have been frequently depicted by both male and female Australian artists, it is unusual for men to be shown or to show themselves in this context. Modest in scale, Brack’s image is conceived in a complex yet subtle colour scheme, applied with clarity and precision. 

Brack was particularly stimulated by the portraiture of Graham Sutherland, who imbued even his grandest subjects with a directness and informality that was in contrast to the idealisation and glorification that were so prevalent in commissioned portraiture.

Self portrait was initially shown in Brack’s 1956 solo exhibition at the Peter Bray Gallery in Melbourne, where it was exhibited alongside Collins St., 5 p.m. and The car, both also painted in 1955 and purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria. The acquisition of Self portrait, considered by many to be one of the finest portraits made in Australia during the twentieth century, enhances the Gallery’s small, distinguished collection of self-portraits by Australian artists. 

Geoffrey Smith