Sunday, 4 October 2015


“If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” - Vincent Van Gogh

John de Burgh Perceval AO (1 February 1923 – 15 October 2000) was a well-known Australian artist. Perceval was the last surviving member of a group known as the “Angry Penguins” who redefined Australian art in the 1940s. Other members included John and Sunday Reed, Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Perceval was born Linwood Robert Steven South at Bruce Rock, Western Australia, the second child of Robert South (a wheat farmer) and Dorothy (née Dolton). His parents separated in 1925 and he remained at his father’s farm until reunited with his mother in Melbourne in 1935. Following the marriage of his mother to William de Burgh Perceval, he changed his name to John and adopted the surname de Burgh Perceval.

In 1938 Perceval contracted polio and was hospitalised, giving him the opportunity to further his skills at drawing and painting. Enlisting in the army in 1941 Perceval first met and befriended Arthur Boyd. After leaving the army and moving into the Boyd family home, ‘Open Country’, Murrumbeena, he married Boyd’s younger sister Mary in 1944. Together he and Mary Boyd produced four children. Perceval held his first solo exhibition at the Melbourne Book Club in 1948 and showed regularly with the Contemporary Art Society.

Between 1949 and 1955 he concentrated on producing earthenware ceramics and helped to establish the Arthur Merric Boyd Pottery in Murrumbeena. Returning to painting in 1956 Perceval produced a series of images of Williamstown and Gaffney’s Creek. Moving to England in 1963 Perceval held solo exhibitions in London, and travelled to Europe, before returning to Australia in 1965 to take up the first Australian National University Creative Fellowship.

‘John Perceval’, a major retrospective exhibition, was held at Albert Hall, Canberra in 1966. Author Margaret Plant’s monograph John Perceval, was published in 1971. Suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia in 1974 Perceval committed himself to the psychiatric hospital Larundel, Melbourne, where he remained until 1981. ‘John Perceval: A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings’ was held at Heide Park and Art Gallery in 1984.

Perceval was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1991, the year after the National Gallery of Victoria organised ‘John Perceval: A Retrospective’. In 2000 from 19 August to 19 October John Perceval Retrospective Exhibition was held in Galeria Aniela Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park officially opened by Chairman Sotheby’s (included 80 oil paintings and works on paper from 1946 to 1999). It was Perceval last retrospective and shown on the ABC TV Australian National News. Prior to his death ‘Scudding Swans’ (1959) sold for $552,500, a record for a living Australian painter. In March 2010, it was sold for $690,000. Perceval was survived by his four children; Matthew, Tessa, Celia and Alice, all of whom are practising artists today.

The painting above is “Ocean Beach, Sorrento”, exhibited in the National Gallery of Victoria. In January 1957 John Perceval visited Portsea and Sorrento as the houseguest of Thomas and Anne Purves, the directors of Australian Galleries, Melbourne. Inspired by the rough and irregular coastline, Perceval painted a small group of works, which he showed in April that year at Australian Galleries, in a joint exhibition with his brother-in-law Arthur Boyd.

‘Ocean beach, Sorrento’, the major work from this series, depicts the rocky Victorian coastline under the dry heat of a summer’s day. Two of the Purves children are shown huddled in a recess in the rocks in the lower right-hand corner of the composition. After making his paintings of Williamstown in 1956, Perceval responded confidently to the subject of water, and in the splash and foam of waves on the shore his calligraphy beautifully matches his subject: paint has been applied frenetically – dribbled and scratched onto the surface – successfully conveying the turbulent water and rugged landscape.

The painting was purchased by Geoffrey Hillas in March 1957. Mr and Mrs Hillas were among the most noted collectors of contemporary Australian art of the period, and their collection included major works by Arthur Boyd, John Brack, John Perceval and Fred Williams.


  1. I must be losing my marbles(: I didn't remember that Perceval had married Mary Boyd and became the brother in law of Arthur Boyd.. what a great decision.

    I admire the young man's artistic gutsiness during the war years. Perceval's first publicly exhibited paintings were shown at Melbourne's Contemporary Art Society in 1942. John Reed loved the teenager's works and published them in the Angry Penguins magazine. Perceval's work was included in the Anti-Fascist Exhibition in Melbourne later that year, taking a real risk but also helping to establish his reputation in the national art scene!

    Thanks for a super link
    Anti-Fascist Art Exhibition, Melbourne 1942

  2. I like the lacey froth and the pink sand. Lovely painting.