A famous d’Arcy William Doyle painting – almost four metres wide – has been gifted to the Ipswich Art Gallery collection.
The 1966 oil on canvas, titled Australia’s first challenge for the America’s Cup, Newport, came from the family behind the iconic Ipswich business, McMahon’s Soft Drinks.
It will be on public display soon, but it is a fascinating story how it and two smaller Doyle originals got there.
Arts and Community Development Committee Chairperson Cr Kylie Stoneman said the painting was the gift of brothers Peter and Jim McMahon, in memory of their parents Frank and Mary McMahon, through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program.
The d’Arcy Doyle, valued at more than $17,000, depicts the 1962 yachting series off Rhode Island when an Australian syndicate headed by Sir Frank Packer, representing the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, challenged with their yacht Gretel.
Gretel lost the regatta four races to one, but Gretel’s win in the second race was the first time the Americans had been beaten on the water since the 1930s.
The Ipswich-born painter was more famous for Australian landscapes and historical scenes, and his interest in sport on canvas was largely restricted to cricket.
But in a significant departure from most of his work, this amazing painting (measuring 127x372cm) captures the 12m America’s Cup contenders battling it out on the wild blue seas at Newport.
The McMahon family gifted two other d’Arcy Doyle paintings to the Ipswich Art Gallery: Dog looking for a tree and the almost identical and sequential Dog walking away happy.
The 173x77cm enamel on board pieces are worth about $5,500 each and were also created in 1966.
The two paintings are actually a pair of doors and were commissioned by the McMahon family. At one point, they hung at the McMahon soft drink factory.
Cr Stoneman said the gallery had obtained four other heritage items and artwork.
“Acquisitions detailed … have been acquired by the Ipswich Arts Foundation Trust for further development of the City of Ipswich Collection,” she said.
“The Director, Ipswich Art Gallery has identified the items as having a direct connection to the cultural heritage and aspirations of the Ipswich region and their acquisition makes a significant contribution to the City of Ipswich Collection. The artworks comply with the City of Ipswich Collection Policy.
“The addition of these assets to the City of Ipswich Collection increases the diversity of the collection for our future generations and contributes to the strategies and outcomes of Council’s Advance Ipswich policy.”
His paintings of the bush and pastoral life and limited edition prints were highly popular with the public, and it was estimated that one in 10 Australian homes held his work in some form. But since his death in 2001, Doyle original artworks have been in high demand.
It is incredibly rare and fortunate that three such paintings are now almost ready to hang in the Ipswich Art Gallery.
Long-serving Division 8 Councillor Charlie Pisasale, the former Arts and Social Development Committee Chairperson, was instrumental in the process.
“Peter McMahon raised the paintings issue with me at a Rotary meeting. The discussion revolved around the possibility of passing these on to the City of Ipswich collection,” Cr Pisasale said.
“(Art Gallery Director) Michael Beckmann and myself arranged to inspect them at Peter’s home.
“The large one was stretched out along the back wall of a double garage. My first impression was, wow! It is great to have it as part of the city’s art collection now.”
Peter McMahon provided even further background.
“The Doyles lived up the road from the old soft drink factory in Martin Street. Dad always employed the kids from the local school to work over Christmas time and d’Arcy was part of that group.
“d’Arcy always had this ability to do arty things. He used to paint the side of our trucks, sign paintings on our shops.”
Peter said d’Arcy Doyle remained a friend of his parents beyond school and Navy service, and years later – and by then famous for his iconic paintings – McMahon Snr asked him to do the America’s Cup painting.
In old measurements, the finished work was 12ft by 4ft.
“We regret it was not a cricket match on a dusty road or a game of marbles in the backyard … his more traditional paintings. But I guess it is something a bit different.
“It’s not a Da Vinci, but ours is bigger (than the one which sold for $450 million this week).”
Peter said the painting found its way from his parents’ home to leaning up against a garage wall at his place.
“It is not something you can hang on the dining room wall. It is a bit overpowering. I thought it would be important to give it back to the City of Ipswich, given all the connections.”
He said the two verticals, featuring the dog looking for a tree to pee and having accomplished the feat, were also commissioned by his father – but not to hang in art gallery.
“There was a very big open room and the toilet opened up on to that room. So my dad got him to paint on two doors to give everyone a bit of privacy.”
Peter said from memory, the scenery included Flinders Peak in the background. It was a more tradition rural d’Arcy Doyle painting, which again ended up in storage at his house.
“They needed a bit of renovation, so I am looking forward to seeing the final product,” he said.
“The family is very proud that we have been able to do something like this for the community and everyone will get the chance to view them.”
Cr Stoneman said the renovation was ongoing and not date had been set for display at this stage.
The Friends of the Ipswich Art Gallery raise funds which they donate to acquire works for the collection. Some of the more notable items include:
- An 1886 mandolin-harp changeable cylinder music box on a table. It is unsure who made the bur walnut veneer, pine and beech carcass, however it was a gift of the National Trust Ipswich with funds donated by the Zonta Club and Rotary Club through the Ipswich Arts Foundations in 2003.
- Maxwell Spencer Dupain is regarded as one of Australia’s greatest photographers. The gallery has one of his silver gelatin photographs from 1943, titled Tired soldier in train, Queensland, which was acquired with funds donated by the Returned Services League of Australia through the Ipswich Arts Foundation in 2004.
- It’s not all pictures and paintings. A 1912 porcelain and silver tea service is remarkable in that it was decorated with hand-painted wildflowers by Marian Ellis Rowan. The six-piece Royal Worcester set was acquired with funds donated by the friends of the Ipswich Art Gallery in 2013. Rowan won great acclaim in the early 1900s for her paintings of Australian flora. Rowan visited the Ipswich region in 1912, staying at Bellevue homestead and also at Warrill View, where she completed several paintings.