Russell Drysdale Sofala 1947

Russell Drysdale

England, Australia 1912-1981
Drysdale created a new vision of Australia. Influenced by European modernism, his work made a radical break from the prevailing Heidelberg school. He was the first artist to take as his primary subject the complex relationships between the land and people of the Australian interior. His landscapes were frequently harsh and peopled by isolated figures who seem strangely stoic and at ease in their environment.

Born in England to an Australian pastoralist family, he moved with them to Australia in 1923. He studied art in Melbourne and later in London and Paris before moving to Sydney in 1940 and dedicating himself full-time to painting.

Sofala 1947

In 1947, Drysdale’s painting companion Donald Friend read about the deserted gold mining towns of New South Wales. The two men organised a painting trip to Sofala and Hill End, near Bathurst. Drysdale’s now-famous painting of Sofala was awarded the Wynne Prize in 1947 – a dramatic change from the prize’s pastoral traditions to a more sober post-war view of the Australian landscape.

Drysdale observed: ‘...these curious and strange rhythms which one discovers in a vast landscape, the juxtaposition of figures, of objects… Add to that again the peculiarity of the particular land in which we live here, and you get a quality of strangeness that you do not find, I think, anywhere else. This is a very ancient land, and its forms and general psychology are so intriguing…’

  • View Sofala in the collection

People and places

Gold was first discovered at Hill End in 1851 and by the height of the gold rush in 1872 the town was the largest inland settlement in the state, with a population of almost 10,000. Once there was no more gold, its decline was dramatic. By 1945, the population was just 700. Just 38 kilometres away, Sofala’s gold rush was short lived, with thousands of prospectors dropping to just a few hundred by 1854, although commercial goldmining didn’t stop until 1948.

After Drysdale and Friend’s first visit, the area attracted some of Australia’s greatest painters to work there, and remains a drawcard for artists today.