(b Bognor Regis, Sussex, 7 Feb. 1912; d Sydney, 29 June 1981). Australian painter of English birth. His family had owned land in Australia since the 1820s and he spent several years of his childhood there. The family settled in Melbourne in 1923 and in the late 1930s Drysdale gave up farming to study art. After moving to Sydney in 1940, he devoted himself full-time to painting and his work became well known throughout Australia during the 1940s.
It revived the tradition of hardship, tragedy, and melancholy associated with the Australian bush that had been obscured by the much more optimistic interpretation developed during the 1890s by the city-based painters of the Heidelberg School. However, in place of the basically Impressionist style of the Heidelberg painters, Drysdale blended Expressionist and Surrealist features founded on his knowledge of contemporary European painting. In 1949 Kenneth Clark, on a visit to Sydney, encouraged Drysdale to exhibit in London and in 1950 he had a one-man show there at the Leicester Galleries; this marked the beginning of a new interest in Australian art in Britain and in Europe—a trend that peaked in the early 1960s. Dobell and Nolan were two other artists whose work became well known in the northern hemisphere in this period and together with Drysdale they represented Australia at the 1954 Venice Biennale. Of these three, Drysdale remained closest to the Australian soil. In the 1950s he travelled widely in the vast tract of Northern Australia, which he described as ‘magnificent in dimension, old as time, curious, strange, and compelling’. As well as the landscape, he painted the life of the Aborigines. During the early 1960s he experienced periods of depression accentuated by the death of his son and his wife. He was knighted in 1969.
Text Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)