The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Fed Square

31 Aug 18 – 28 Jan 19

George Baldessin and Brett Whiteley were both born in 1939 and were to have a profound impact on Australian art.

In the 1960s and 1970s, they experienced meteoric success in their respective cities of Melbourne and Sydney. They were figurative, expressionist, attracted to popular culture, avant-garde art and existentialist ideas, and explored themes of sexuality and the urban environment. They were innovative in their use of medium, brilliantly provocative in their artistic language and created art that epitomised their epoch. Both died tragically young: Baldessin in 1978, and Whiteley in 1992.

For the first time, the two artists are brought together in this expansive exhibition featuring some of their most iconic works, as well as others that have never been exhibited before. Despite differences in Baldessin’s and Whiteley’s artistic temperaments, chosen materials and stylistic strategies, their works betray many striking parallels and synergies.

Working in a rapidly changing world in the aftermath of the Second World War, Baldessin and Whiteley made art that not only examined what it meant to be human in an urban environment at a time of tension, but that also celebrated the human spirit. Today their work appears remarkably fresh, vibrant and contemporary.

George Baldessin

“I am for an art that takes form from the lines of life.”
George Baldessin

Early Life

George Baldessin was born on Friday, 19 May 1939 in the small city of San Biagio di Callalta, Italy. His mother, Carmella, was a naturalised Australian, and travelled to Melbourne shortly after her son’s birth. Before her husband and baby could follow, war broke out and the artist’s father, Luigi, was conscripted. The family was not reunited until 1949 in Melbourne. Baldessin became a naturalised Australian in 1954.

Drawn to art from an early age, Baldessin enrolled in 1958 at the art school at Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT University), where he proved a brilliant student.

On graduating in 1961, he studied in London at the Chelsea School of Art, and subsequently in Milan at the Brera Academy, where he worked under the celebrated sculptors Marino Marini and Alik Cavaliere. Throughout his studies, Baldessin supported himself by working as a waiter.

In 1971, he married Tess Edwards, and the couple would have two children.

A spectacular career was cut short when Baldessin died in a single-vehicle car accident in 1978.


“Life is a blank canvas, art is filling it in…”
Brett Whiteley

Early Life

Brett Whiteley was born on Good Friday, 7 April 1939, in Rose Bay, Sydney. His father, Clem Whiteley, came from Bradford in Yorkshire, England, and was drawn to the American film industry. His mother, Beryl Martin, was a receptionist who shared her husband’s passion for Hollywood and the world of fashion and glamour.

Whiteley’s education was divided between a boarding school in Bathurst, in rural New South Wales, which he hated, and Sydney, which he tolerated. With the end of his parents’ marriage, Whiteley left school and found employment at the Lintas Advertising Agency, where he met a number of other emerging artists who became lifelong friends.

In 1960 Whiteley won the Italian Government Travelling Art Scholarship, which took him to Rome at the age of twenty. He arrived in London as a twenty-one-year-old with his partner from Sydney, Wendy Julius, and was an immediate success. Whiteley was included in key exhibitions, had work acquired by the Tate Gallery, and was lionised by parts of the English art world.

Whiteley became one of Australia’s highest profile artists before he died from a drug overdose in 1992.