Ian Fairweather

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Ian Fairweather (29 September 1891-20 May 1974) was an Australian artist. He is considered one of the greatest Australian painters of all time, combining western and Asian influences in his work.


Ian Fairweather was born in Stirlingshire, Scotland in 1891. He received early schooling at Victoria College, in London and in Switzerland before attending officer training school at Belfast where his rank was second lieutenant.

During World War I he was captured by the Germans in France and spent the next four years in prisoner-of-war camps. While captured he was permitted to study drawing and Japanese. He was responsible for the illustrations in the POW magazines.

After the war he studied art in the Netherlands, London and Munich. In 1918, he studied at The Hague Academy and then privately with van Mastenbroek. In 1921 he attended the School of Oriental and African Studies, studying Japanese, and between 1920 and 1924 he attended the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art in London.

From this time on he began a wandering existence travelling to Canada, Shanghai, Bali, Colombo and Australia. In 1934, in Melbourne, he made contact with modernist artists and began a mural for the Menzies Hotel.

Later that year he left Australia via Sydney and Brisbane for the Philippines. He then travelled to many places including Shanghai, Peking, Manila, Brisbane, Singapore, Calcutta. He served with the British Army in India from 1941 to 1943 and after travelling to Queensland, Melbourne and Brisbane he eventually settled into a studio in Melbourne. By this time his paintings had become widely known and had already been acquired by the CAS, London and the Tate and Leicester City Gallery.

Desire for adventure saw him move to Darwin,] where he built a raft and travelled alone to Timor. Deported by the Indonesian authorities, he went to London via Singapore and returned to Brisbane in 1953. He built a hut on Bribie Island, where he lived for the rest of his life except for visits to India and London during the 1960s.


One of his paintings, Monastery, acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, was described by critics at the time as a masterpiece. It was singled out by fellow Australian artist James Gleeson, who said, "He has fashioned an extraordinarily fascinating hybrid from the pictorial traditions of Europe and the calligraphy of China...." (The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 June 1961) It is acknowledged that he is one of the few European painters to have assimilated the exotic and primitive islands of the Pacific and the art of the Australian Aborigines. His style has been described as "a paragon of sophisticated clumsiness". He often used the cheapest materials, such as cardboard or newspaper and poor quality paints, and he lost or damaged many works due to the effects of the tropical climate in which he lived.

Fairweather's work was included in the exhibition "Australian Painting Today" at the Tate Gallery, London and in the same year was selected to represent Australia at the São Paulo Art Biennial.

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