While the name John Brack is not often heard outside his native Australia, down under he’s one of the most well-known fine artists. As one of the Antipodeans — a group of seven modern artists who “asserted the importance of figurative art, and protested against abstract expressionism” — he made a name for himself in the local Melbourne art scene in the mid-1950s.
Today’s painting is known as The Bar, and was painted in 1954.
It was in the news somewhat recently, when in 2006 it sold for $3.12 million dollars, setting a new record for the highest price paid for a work of art from Australia. It was purchased privately, so it won’t be available for public viewing, as the Victoria Museum had hoped. They own three of Brack’s works, including his famous Collins Street 5 p.m., which is widely considered to be the companion of The Bar. Both paintings are mentioned in the Wikipedia entry:
Brack’s early conventional style evolved into one of simplified, almost stark, shapes and areas of deliberately drab colour, often featuring large areas of brown. He made an initial mark in the 1950s with works on then contemporary Australian culture, such as the iconic Collins Street, 5 pm (1955), a view of rush hour in post-war Melbourne. Set in a bleak palette of browns and greys, it was a comment on the conformity of everyday life, with all figures looking almost identical. A related painting The Bar (1954) was modeled on Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, and satirized the Six o’clock swill, a social ritual arising from the early closing of Australian bars. Most of these early paintings and drawings were unmistakably satirical comments against the Australian Dream, either being set in the newly expanding post-war suburbia or taking the life of those who lived there as their subject matter.
In 2007, another Brack Painting — The Old Time (looking like a scene out of the hilarious Australian film Strictly Ballroom) — broke that record, selling for $3.3 million.