Australian and European Painting, Christie's, August 1998, lot 1254
Private collection, Sydney
Russell Drysdale was a master draughtsman, and his drawings were most frequently inhabited by the seemingly uncomplicated men and women of the Australian outback.
His works on paper are intimate in both scale and tone and, like the subjects of these works, are relaxed and naturalistic. While they are primarily solo portraits, they are thought not strictly to be representations of an individual, but perhaps 'characters' drawn from Drysdale's lasting impressions of numerous people encountered in his travels. Seemingly unconcerned with editorialising or sentimentalising his subjects, these characters are presented as brave and matter-of-fact.
Yet there is a wonderful complexity to 'Youth' which perhaps makes it a particularly special work in Drysdale's drawing oeuvre. This portrait has layers of ambiguity in it that make it a piece that reveals itself more slowly than most. In the first instance the youth is presented with a compelling androgyny, his delicate features rendered in Drysdale's famously elegant combination of pen, ink and wash. This complexity is furthered by the curious expression of the subject which, like the smile of the Mona Lisa, seems impossible to read with any certainty. Drysdale's teenager is at once wistful, melancholy, coy and blas.