High Court building artworks

  • Public Hall
  • born 1939 Latvia to Australia 1950
  • Constitution Wall Mural 1977–80
  • 1977–80
  • screen printed images, etched on aluminium, anodised
  • Commissioned for the opening in 1980, collection of the High Court of Australia

The Constitution Wall Mural focuses on historical themes and the constitutional and appellate role of the Court. Its creator, Jan Senbergs, said in 1979 that he had attempted to evolve new images to symbolise the Court's history, functions and aspirations. He aimed to achieve a lightness and tonality in balance with the interior architecture of the High Court’s Public Hall. Senbergs explained the themes in the mural as follows:

  • Panel 1 symbolises a lighthouse, throwing light, representing the search for knowledge and justice but also serving as a beacon for migrants travelling to Australia. The double shafts of the structure represent both sides of a case. The lighthouse is also a symbol for the new federal powers under the Constitution in relation to shipping, overseas trade and immigration.
  • Panel 2 represents the Constitutional debates over the Australian and Southern Cross flags, and Constitutional evolution, adjustments and reforms.
  • Panel 3 represents the historical figures who worked for federation under a Constitution and the establishment of the High Court of Australia.
  • Panel 4 represents the rising of the seas about 18,000 years ago which shaped the land, and Aboriginal culture.

    Patrick McCaughey has described Panels 3 and 4 as suggesting 'powerfully that the conception and creation of Australia as a nation-state is the drama of a human entity emerging from a difficult and recalcitrant land. History and nature collide on the Constitutional wall'.

  • Panel 5 represents the Australian Parliament (the old Parliament House), nationhood, legislating for the Commonwealth, and the inter-relationship between Parliament and the High Court.
  • Panel 6 represents the Murray River, the rail link at Albury, and the trading vessel, 'the Cerberus'. Before federation, these were divisive elements but were later linked in an endeavour of unity, representing one of the main roles of the High Court as being the healer of state and territory divisions.

About the artist

  • Jan Senbergs is a Melbourne-based painter and printmaker. He was born in Latvia in 1939 and migrated to Australia in 1950. His works, which often have dark themes focusing on industrialised landscapes, are in many major galleries in Australia and overseas. He has won many awards, including the William Dobell Drawing Prize three times (1993–95). He was a member of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council (1984–87), a Trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria (1984–89) and in 1989 was the Visiting Professor, Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University, Boston, USA.

    In 1993 the Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne staged a major Senbergs survey exhibition, Imagined Sites – Imagined Realities and in 2008 the Art Gallery of New South Wales surveyed the development of his career over 25 years in the exhibition Jan Senbergs – from Screenprinter to Painter.

    In the late 1970s the Public Arts Committee of the Visual Arts Board nominated Jan Senbergs as one of Australian artists whose work should be considered for the High Court. The Constitution Wall and States Wall mural is Senbergs’ largest commission and has been described as 'by far the most important work of art in the High Court'.

More in this category: States Wall mural »