Artist Charles Blackman, known for Alice in Wonderland series, dies aged 90
One of Australia's greatest painters of the human condition, Charles Blackman, has died in Sydney surrounded by family a week after celebrating his 90th birthday.
- Blackman was best known for his Alice in Wonderland series of paintings
- His son Auguste said his father "painted the dreams of everyone"
- Blackman is survived by three ex-wives and six children
Blackman was one of the last of his generation, best known for his paintings that riffed on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.
His son Auguste paid tribute to his father this morning as the most generous of artists.
"He painted our dreams. He painted the dreams of everyone," he said.
"I've never met such a man who could channel emotion the way Charles did in the paint.
"We have this wonderful legacy, it belongs to everyone, it's an incredible thing for one man to have achieved, that level of communication."
Blackman was born in Sydney in 1928 to an alcoholic father and a gambling-addict mother. He and his three sisters grew up in and out of children's homes.
After leaving school at age 13, he worked as a newspaper illustrator. In the 1950s he was living in Melbourne where he mixed with the Heide circle of artists.
He later came to be defined by his membership of the so-called Antipodean movement, with Arthur Boyd, John Brack and others.
In 1959, the group signed an "Antipodean Manifesto", which was a statement protesting the dominance of abstract expressionism.
Blackman was best known for his Alice in Wonderland series, painted in 1956 and 1957, depicting his wife Barbara as Alice.
Sotheby's Australia chairman Geoffrey Smith described Blackman as "one of the heroes of the history and development of Australian art in the twentieth century".
"Blackman will be remembered most for the emotional content of the imagery," Mr Smith said.
"He wasn't an artist that was an explorer in the sense of going out into the landscape, he didn't really want to conquer the light and the landscape, he wanted to conquer feelings and understand relationships.
"He invites us into a world which expands our horizons."
Blackman's work is held in all major public collections in Australia.
During his life he also travelled abroad and become a celebrated artist in the UK and Europe.
Internationally his works can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Tate Gallery in London.
In 1977 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Australian art.
"Charles Blackman brought a distinct vision to Australian art," said Deborah Hart, head of Australian art at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.
"His sense of poetry and ability to capture the poignancy, emotion and richness of the everyday urban landscape remains unrivalled. His legacy will live on."
In 2010 two of Blackman's children, Auguste and Christabel, accused the Art Gallery of NSW of ignoring their father's work.
At that time, the gallery did not have any of his pictures on display nor did it own one of the coveted Alice paintings.
The National Gallery of Victoria, in contrast, has a solid Blackman collection and staged the landmark 1993 exhibition Schoolgirls and Angels.
After it was called-out, the Art Gallery of NSW hung Blackman's brooding, almost monotone Angry Young Girl portrait in its Australian galleries where it remains on display.
About a quarter of a century ago, alcohol abuse led Blackman to suffer a series of medical complications that left him with Korsakoff syndrome, a form of dementia.
He required full-time care and this year moved to a nursing home.
Blackman is survived by three ex-wives and six children.
He was married to poet Barbara Blackman for 27 years. They had three children: Auguste, Christabel and Barnaby.
She divorced him because of his drinking and not long after he married Genevieve de Couvreur, who at the time was the 19-year-old friend of his daughter Christabel.
De Couvreur and Blackman had two children, Felix and Bertie, but divorced after eight years.
He was married to his third wife, Victoria Bower, for a short period and they had a son, Axiom.