Cigar Box hand painted by Hugh Sawrey (Early 1970’s) – Sawrey Family Collection – SOLD

Available at: SOLD

Detail photos for this Artwork

This delightful cigar box, adorned with two signed paintings by Hugh Sawrey was made in his Studio in the early 1970’s, when he was living at Boonah in Queensland. The cigar box is from the St Andrew’s brand, made in Jamaica, and was most likely purchased from a tobacconist in Brisbane. The brand stickers are still intact, as well as a small Greenhide leather tie attached to the clasp, a delightful hand-made addition by Sawrey.

Hugh Sawrey had some basic skills working with ropes and tanned Greenhide leather – bush craft skills he learnt whilst he was a stockman. Greenhide leather is tough and hard wearing, and Sawrey’s son’s recall how Hugh modified and repaired chairs, created handles and personalised items at home with Greenhide strips.

The box is painted on both internal panels with attractive station scenes. It is not only an incredibly rare and very beautiful art piece, but also a unique historical object that provides a glimpse into Sawrey’s personal world.

Sawrey, a chain smoker from the time he started smoking during World War II, had always rolled and smoked his own cigarettes, using either the Log Cabin tobacco brand or Champion fine-cut. After his fortunes turned upwards when his artistic career took off, he began to indulge in a some simple pleasures, and cigars became an occasional treat.

Sawrey took the opportunity to sample and purchase cigars from specialist tobacconists whenever he visited cities to meet with galleries or attend exhibitions. He favoured the longer and thinner cigars, known as cigarillos, which came rolled in a tobacco leaf in a more compact and thinner timber box than the thicker Cuban cigars.

Sawrey’s son Anthony shared a memorable family story of one of Hugh visits to a tobacconist’s. Hugh always carried a box of matches in his pocket so he could light up when he chose. Once, whilst sampling a cigar, he put the used match back in its box, only to have the match ignite the whole box and flare up inside his pocket! Sawrey threw the lit box to the shop floor, stomping out the flames, much to the horror of the tobacconist!

Cigar boxes, cigarette butts and cigar stubs were always present in Hugh’s Studio. He smoked continuously when he was painting, both his day to day rollies and cigarillos when he could afford it. The odd accidental blob of ash sometimes fell from a cigarette onto the surface of a painting and become intermingled by brushstrokes into the oil paint.

The demands on Sawrey for his work was great and he could spend days on end in his Studio. His family recall how on return to the house from his sustained painting sessions, he would reek of cigarette smoke, oil paint and turpentine after hours of intense absorption in his own world of painting.

By painting in a cigar box, Sawrey may have knowingly or unwittingly, be honouring and continuing the tradition that was established in 1889 at the now legendary event in Australian art history, the “9 x 5 Impression Exhibition” in Melbourne. The exhibition featured small Impressionist paintings by  esteemed Australian Impressionist painters Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Charles Condor who painted on the lids of wooden cigar box panels measuring 9 x 5 inches (23 x 13 cm), hence the name of the exhibition. These 9 x 5 paintings are now extremely valuable and much revered as important cultural works of art.

During the course of his career Sawrey painted a few other cigar boxes with scenes, after all, the thin wooden panels in the boxes were the perfect smooth surface for a small painting! However, very few cigar boxes (if any!) by Sawrey have ever surfaced for sale, making this an extremely rare and highly collectable item, especially as it comes from the Sawrey family’s private collection.

Much thought and expense from the Sawrey family, Tiffany Jones Fine Art Consultant and a specialist framer, have been dedicated to conserving and presenting with elegance this beautiful hand painted cigar box. The painted panels have recently been cleaned, the brand stickers and remnants of the Jamaican country of original labels are still intact on the box, and Sawrey’s hand made leather tie remains faithfully in place on the clasp.

The cigar box is presented in an attractive custom-made support so that all aspects of the box are visible and accessible. The framed support allows for the box to be hung on the wall like a painting, with the interior panels opened out flat to fully enjoy both painted scenes within the box. Simultaneously, you can also enjoy the tangible experience of gently lifting the box out of the frame to hold and view from all angles, or to place on a table. The box can then be clipped easily back into its framed support and hung on the wall.

Wooden Jamaican Cigarillo Box hand painted with Oil Paint on 2 internal panels
27 x 21.5 cm
48.5 x 42.5 cm
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