Central Square, Tobruk

This is an unusual subject in the work of Hele, whose preference for figure studies and portraits dominated his career, but the circumstances in Tobruk at this time provided a unique opportunity for such a study. After capturing the port from Italian forces, the Australian troops gathered at the harbour to await redeployment, allowing Hele the opportunity to make studies of the area.

Central Square, Tobruk painted in Tobruk, Libya in 1941
oil, black pencil on canvas on hardboard
48.1 x 57.8cm
acquired under official war art scheme in 1941
(22865)

In an impressionistic style, Hele has captured the effect of the afternoon sun, heat and dust on the Central Square. The canvas is full of the shimmer of light, painted in a high-keyed palette. The buildings and trees are loosely structured with vigorously applied, short, sharp brushstrokes. Sections of the canvas are thick with paint, providing a hint of the vigour used by Hele to complete this painting out-of-doors. His decision, in this instance to paint in terms of tone rather than the object itself, appears to be a direct exploration of Impressionism.

Questions and discussion
On close examination of this painting you can clearly see the brushstrokes. Look closely and describe the surface texture of the work.

What happens when the work is viewed from a distance?

Compare a work by Monet,such as Rouen Cathedral, or by another French Impressionist with this painting by Hele. How are they similar? Discuss subject matter, application of paint and colour.

Practical exercise
On a piece of cardboard, create a landscape by applying paint with a knife. Experiment to produce different textures.

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