Bill Henson

Untitled, 1983-1984,
Type C, colour photograph
78 x 67 cm; 76 x 63 cm; 76 x 63 cm (triptych - illustration shows one work only)

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Deutscher Gertrude Street, Melbourne
Private collection
Olsen/Carr Art Dealers, Sydney
Private collection (1994-2000)
Auction, Christie’s Contemporary, Sydney, 13 August 2000, lot 3
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Bill Henson Photographs, Deutscher Gertrude Street, Melbourne, 15 June-7 July 1989, cat. 63

D Malouf & M Heyward, Bill Henson, Sydney, 1988, p.83
D Malouf & P Schjeldahl, Bill Henson Photographs 1974-1984, Melbourne,,illus. 58
Bill Henson: Mnemosyne, Scalo, Berlin, Zurich, New York, 2005, illustrated p. 273

This untitled triptych comes from his Untitled Sequence, 1983-84 and displays a number of the series’ distinctive motifs. On the triptych’s wings are views of galleries containing paintings by the Old Masters in European galleries. Deprived of their colour, Henson reflects on light and mood, the rigorous, highly spiritual paintings against the empty gallery space. The central image is of a naked young girl, a desolate figure flanked at odds with the images of cool, classical grandeur beside her. In his foreword to the series, author and publisher Michael Heyward wrote about the difficult relationship between subject and image: ‘The camera is an intrusive machine but no one in the photographs acknowledges any intrusion, no one amongst these shadows partakes of that self-consciousness which we, by definition, experience in viewing them.’ (Michael Hayward, Bill Henson: Photographs, Pan-Picador, Sydney, 1988, p. 44)

  • Untitled, 1983-1984

Detail, Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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'Henson’s work is a celebration of the amoral. He makes no judgements, takes no positions, addresses no issues and yet reveals all manner of human instincts, intuitions and imaginings. His work and its inviting intrigue compel us to contemplate the imponderable and to wonder at the impenetrable. As such they are revelations of the imagination made seductively tangible but never fully complete or comprehensible.' (Edmund Capon on Bill Henson, 2004)

Bill Henson is one of Australia’s leading photographers. He has exhibited for over forty years in Australia and internationally, with his first major show coming at the age of just nineteen at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Whether working with figures, landscapes or architecture, Henson’s theatricality, masterful handling of light and willingness to experiment with printing processes yield rich, painterly surfaces that have left an indelible mark on the history of photography.

Writings on Henson abound with literary comparisons from Marcel Proust to W.G. Sebald, the common denominator being the belief that the body is an artistic medium. Whether candidly capturing the lives of ordinary people in Melbourne’s CBD as a photographic embodiment of Baudelaire’s flâneur or in his staged and highly theatrical tableaux vivant images exploring youth and sexuality, Henson is unrelenting in his quest to document the totality of human experience from the depths of boredom to the peaks of ecstasy.

In 1995, Henson represented Australia at the 46th Venice Biennale with his unique and highly celebrated ‘cut-screen’ photographic works. In 2005, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, staged a survey of Henson’s work that travelled to the National Gallery of Victoria in 2006 to unprecedented crowds. In 2006, too, he staged his second major international solo exhibition, Twilight, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. In recent years, the Art Gallery of New South Wales held a show dedicated to his Cloud Landscapes, and in 2017 he showed at the National Gallery Victoria as part of their Festival of Photography. His work is the subject of two extensive monographs: Lux et Nox, 2002, and Mnemosyne, 2005, both published by Scalo, Switzerland.