Detail photos for this Artwork
“Study in Blue -The Swagman” was painted by Hugh Sawrey in the 1990’s. Swagmen “humping their bluey” (swag) and billy can, walking from destination todestination in search of work, are a popular and very sought after subject by Sawrey.
Sawrey’s swagman paintings honour the important Australian cultural tradition of “Waltzing Matilda” that appears in both verse, song and images. Sawrey loved reading and could recite passages of poetry from several great Australian poets including: Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, Will Ogilvie, and C. J. Dennis.
Story-telling and preserving bush narratives in paint are some the most important and defining features of Sawrey’s work. Much of what Sawrey painted came from his direct experience as a stockman and drover working and travelling between stations in rural Australia.
Many of this paintings were inspired by bush poetry. Some take verse segments for their titles. Books that Sawrey signed for art collectors often included not only his signature, but also a few lines of verse he’d pen from poets he admired. Sawrey also wrote some of his own poems.
His much-loved swagman subject harks back to early in his career when his painting “Just Matilda and Me” was published as his first ever print edition in 1965. This print is very well known and held in many private collections.
Interestingly, Sawrey chose to depict “Study in Blue – The Swagman” in a tonal palette of blue, creating a wonderful point of difference from many of his other swagmen oils that were predominately made in tones of ochre and raw umber.
Sawrey’s sons suggest that the blue colour scheme was most likely for Hugh’s personal entertainment. For an artist, experimenting with colour tones is both refreshing and stimulating, as well as a way to highlight their expertise in manipulating colour to replicate form and light, without needing a strictly accurate palette. Sawrey achieves this very convincingly in this unique painting.
Being such a popular subject, it is special that this swagman painting was able to be retained in the Sawrey’s private collection – a testament to the supreme efforts of Hugh’s wife, Gill (who passed away in 2021), to hold onto such beautiful works for her family to enjoy, rather than have all of Hugh’s works slip out the door to be sold.