Danila Vassilieff

(Australia 1897 – 1958)

Man, wife and mother-in-law in street

Not on display
Further information

When the nomadic Russian-born Danila Vassilieff (1897-1958) arrived in Melbourne in 1937, his work came as a revelation to many of the generation of experimental artists, including Arthur Boyd, Joy Hester and Sidney Nolan, who were exploring new avenues for their art at this time.

Vassilieff had been a professional painter for over a decade when he arrived in Melbourne, but his notion of the importance of an untutored artistic expression, his style of rapid brushwork and sparsely painted surfaces appealed to younger artists as radical. As did his choice of subjects, painted in the streets and laneways of Melbourne’s inner city, by capturing moments of everyday working class life, its movement, poverty and the graffitied, decaying environments in a style that itself appears akin to a form of street art.

'Man, wife and mother-in-law in street' 1937 is a portrait of Vassilieff’s landlord and family in Fitzroy. The figures appear formally posed, slightly awkward, as if waiting to be photographed. But any stiffness to the figures is countered by the dynamics of graffiti on the wall against which they stand, which instils a sense of the pulsating life-forces of the streets. Vassilieff’s loose, sketch-like line work and his bare palette aligns features of the figures’ dress and their outlines to their backdrop, suggesting a connection to their surrounds. Vassilieff believed in painting from the realities of life, but equally in extracting a sense of the vital undercurrents of the city in his works. Equipped with such ideals, he created his own form of visual urban poetry from the poverty-stricken Melbourne streets in which he painted.

oil on canvas
47.0 x 52.5 cm sight; 62.5 x 69.1 x 3.0 cm frame
Signature & date

Signed u.r. corner, black oil "Vassilieff". Not dated.

Gift of Adrienne Allen 2019
Accession number
© Heide Museum of Modern Art