The Jon Molvig Project Database

The Jon Molvig Project Database

The QAGOMA Research Library is host to the Jon Molvig Project Database, a database of the Australian artist’s works, compiled by Glenn R Cooke, former Research Curator (Queensland Heritage), QAGOMA.

Jon Molvig (1923–70) spent the greater part of his productive life in Brisbane where he dominated the art scene into the late 1960s. Brisbane was the catalyst for his major work, providing him with scope for his expressionist view of the world. Outspoken and rebellious, Molvig was also a charismatic teacher whose uncompromising commitment to painting inspired a group of young artists.

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Jon Molvig

Jon Molvig with James Finney 1960 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) in Painting People 1965 / Still courtesy: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia’s Film Australia Collection / © NFSA

Jon Molvig ‘A twilight of women’

Jon Molvig, Australia 1923-70 / A twilight of women 1957 / Oil on composition board / 137.2 x 148.6cm / Purchased 1984 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Otte Bartzis

Molvig’s oeuvre is characterised by radical shifts of subject matter and style within a matter of a few years. His work during the mid 1950s, such as A twilight of women 1957 (illustrated), was remarkable for its expressionist savagery.

There could be no stylistic shift more abrupt than his new ‘Eden Industrial’ series. His imagery altered to record his recollections of Newcastle, the industrial city of his unhappy early years.

DELVE DEEPER: The life and art of Jon Molvig

The first major showing of works from the ‘Eden industrial’ series was in October 1961 and included Eden industrial: The garden 1961. The garden (illustrated) is the major work in the series, as it is more than twice the dimension of other works.

Molvig recalled: I come from Newcastle. The best painters come from Newcastle — Dobell and Olsen for instance — but what a terrible place.1 Molvig took the Biblical figures of Adam and Eve from their paradisaical Garden of Eden and placed them in a blasted, industrial wasteland. Sand was incorporated into the paint surface to obtain a grainy texture while attacking the oil paint with a blow-torch achieved a blistered, charred effect — evoking a dark and brooding atmosphere. The universal figures of Adam and Eve emerge from this melancholy landscape, surrounded by smokestacks and industrial sludge with their skeletal forms, depicted in a x-ray style, portraying their utter vulnerability.

Jon Molvig ‘Eden industrial: The garden (from ‘Eden industrial’ series)’

Jon Molvig, Australia 1923-70 / Eden industrial: The garden (from ‘Eden industrial’ series) 1961 / Oil treated with blow torch on composition board / 185 x 246.6cm / Purchased 1983 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Otte Bartzis

Jon Molvig ‘Self portrait’

Self portrait 1956 (illustrated) was the Gallery’s first major acquisition of Molvig’s work, having been a finalist at the 1956 Archibald Prize. Brooding and intense, the painting is a remarkable distillation of Molvig’s steely nature and reputation as an outsider. For an artist to whom portraiture was a major commitment self-images are a minor aspect of his output. 

Jon Molvig, Australia 1923‑70 / Self portrait 1956 / Oil on composition board / 142.3 x 114.3 cm / Gift of the National Gallery Society of Queensland 1958 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © QAGOMA

Edited extracts from research by Glenn R Cooke

1 Churcher, Betty. Molvig: The lost antipodean. Allen Lane/Penguin Books, Ringwood, Vic., 1984, p.89

Eden industrial: The garden (from ‘Eden industrial’ series) is on display in the Queensland Art Gallery’s Australian Art Collection Galleries 10, 11, 12 & 13 (Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries)

QAGOMA Research Library

The QAGOMA Research Library is located on Level 3 of the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Open to the public Tuesday to Friday, 10.00am to 4.45pm, visit us in person or explore the online catalogue. Access to special collections is available by appointment. To contact the Library, or to add or correct any information on the Jon Molvig database, please email [email protected]


The richly illustrated, hardcover publication Jon Molvig: Maverick is available at the QAGOMA Store and online.

Notes to the Jon Molvig Project Database

The first exhibition to assess Jon Molvig’s contribution was held at his birthplace in Newcastle, New South Wales. ‘Molvig’, curated by his close friend Bronwyn Thomas (and widow of Laurie Thomas, the former director of the Queensland Art Gallery 1961-67), opened at the Newcastle Region Art Gallery on 22 June 1978 and subsequently toured to the Queensland Art Gallery, Australian National Gallery, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Benalla Art Gallery and Art Gallery of Western Australia, completing its nationwide tour at Monash University Art Gallery on 6 April 1979.

Thomas then turned her research notes and documentation over to Betty Churcher who published her book, Molvig: The Lost Antipodean in 1984 and, over a decade later in 1997, Churcher passed her material onto Glenn Cooke who began assembling the material and provided curator Katrina Rumley with a more comprehensive exhibition list for the exhibition, ‘Jon Molvig: Expressionist’, held at Newcastle Region Art Gallery in 2002.

The Jon Molvig Project Database was updated for ‘Jon Molvig: Maverick’ at QAGOMA from 14 September 2019 to 2 February 2020, with the support of Cornelia (Otte) Bartzis, Molvig’s widow.

Featured image: (left) Portrait of Jon Molvig 1965. Courtesy & Otte Bartzis / (right) Jon Molvig Self portrait (detail) 1956 

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