Russell Drysdale arrived in Australia from the United Kingdom as a child, and began his working life as a jackeroo, later being employed in Queensland in the family sugar mills. Preliminary studies in Melbourne under George Bell were followed by full-time studies in Europe, where he absorbed French and British influences. He returned to Australia in 1940, and set¬tled in Sydney where he associated with Dobell (q. v.), Friend (q. v.), Herman and others. In between further over¬seas trips, Drysdale toured rural Australia, producing dramatic and elo¬quent canvases of both white and black Australians, their characters and their circumstances.
Before Drysdale, Australian landscape painters had mainly depicted the attractive side of their country - the "blue and gold poetic realism" of Streeton (q. v.) and the Heidelberg tradition. In his dramatic and predominant use of black, combined with bold simplicity, Drysdale challenged the way Australians saw their own land, providing a realistic "rough" alternative to the gum tree icon.
THE CHINAMAN'S STORE, 1949, - was the result of a journey which Drysdale made with his close companion, Donald Friend (q.v.) in 1947 to the half-deserted former gold mining towns in rural New South Wales. Hill End, a shabby "ghost town" of the gold era, became the centre of the sketching, painting, and photographic activities of the two friends during their excursion.
This painting is based on a photograph Drysdale took at Hill End, and it provides a "snapshot" image of a typically Australian outback settlement - the wooden shops, hotels and other buildings with their wide, cast-iron verandahs lining the dirt road. Yet the artist has evoked something more.
THE CHINAMAN'S STORE, 1949, is also a close study of the character of a vulnerable Australian country town - a simply built but solidly enduring place in a desolate, spacious and harsh landscape.
In this painting, unlike his usual "figure in the landscape" works, Drysdale has omitted any reference to the town's inhabitants; the buildings must also stand as a reflection of the character of the people. However, this feature also serves to heighten the sense of desolation and desertion. The composition is simple: the store stands in the right-hand foreground opposite a nondescript wooden house, and in the background are several other houses and distant hills.
What might otherwise be an uninteresting scene is relieved by the richness of Drysdale's colours. The various shades of brown, yellow and red, reminiscent of the colours of Venetian painting, characterise the "essence" of the land, and these are placed against a bright blue sky which serves to give a sense of the heat of the day. Patches of green grass hug the store's verandah floor, softening the raw adjacent dusty thoroughfare.
Drysdale has no intention of hiding the ugliness of the scene, but presents it with authenticity and dignity. This is not the promised Utopia, but an exhausted, precarious landscape, in which the ghosts of defeated inhabitants linger on.
Adding to the feeling of unease and eeriness in this melancholy settlement, the dry road peters out into the infinity of a countryside which although invaded has not been subdued.
Unfortunately, the painting was completely destroyed in the disastrous fire at Carrick Hill in 1958. These two original working drawings were later given to Edward and Ursula Hayward by the artist, as indicated in his hand¬written letter attached to the smaller study.
Drysdale was also a brilliant draughtsman, and throughout his career his first love was drawing. His two studies for WOMAN YAWNING were preliminary drawings for the associated oil painting. WOMAN YAWNING I, undated, shows an oblique view, which contrasts with the almost frontal view of WOMAN YAWNING II, undated. Edward and Ursula Hayward purchased the oil painting of the same name at the auction of the Keith Murdoch Collection in March 1953.