High Court building artworks

  • Public Hall, outside Court 1
  • Bea MADDOCK (1934-2016)
  • born 1934 Hobart Tasmania
  • The inauguration of the High Court of Australia, Melbourne 1903: Panels for the High Court in Canberra 1979–80
  • 1979–80
  • wax-coated collage of embossed hand-made paper words darkened with graphite and lightened with white crayon mounted on wax-impregnated canvas on twelve plywood panels
  • Commissioned 1979, a gift of the Australian Bar Association, collection of the High Court of Australia

This collage recounts the appointment of Justices to the first High Court bench in 1903, and their inauguration ceremony, as reported in The Age newspaper of 6 and 7 October 1903 (click here for RTF version). When Bea Maddock was invited with a few other artists to submit a proposal for a mural based on a photograph of the first sitting of the High Court in Melbourne in 1903, she had been working on paintings and drawings of words, and she searched for press reports of the event. She felt the words were as important as the photograph. She proposed twelve wax panels with text from the newspaper reports from the The Age in October 1903. They were to be in six columns, each two panels high, and incorporating a simplified rendering of the photograph. The selection panel saw the submission drawings mistakenly arranged in one horizontal line of single panels, and the recommendation to award the commission to Bea Maddock was based on this arrangement. When the artist saw the mistaken arrangement she preferred it to her original proposal.

In developing the mural, Maddock prepared a number of other drawings and what she referred to as 'blueprints'. Some preparatory drawings were destroyed in the 1983 Victorian bushfires that razed the artist’s home and studio at Mount Macedon. Others were exhibited and acquired by private and public collections.

The making of the mural took about six months from July 1979, working after hours in the Dean’s Studio at the Victorian College of the Arts where Bea Maddock was teaching. The process was complex and time-consuming, and she hired Ruth Groves, a painter and a former student, to assist with the embossed paper lettering on the panels. The initials of the artist and her assistant, BM and RG, can be seen at the bottom of the last panel.

About the artist

  • Bea Maddock (1934-2016) is a major Australian artist who has spent most of her career in Tasmania. She studied at the Hobart Technical College and in London at the Slade School of Fine Art. She taught printmaking through the 1970s at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, and returned to Hobart after the Ash Wednesday bushfires. She was head of the Tasmanian School of Art, Launceston for a brief period. In 2011 the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVMAG), Launceston, published Bea Maddock Catalogue Raisonné, volume 1, 1951–83. She held more than 40 solo exhibitions during the period 1964–2006, and a major exhibition of her work 'Being and nothingness' toured in 1992–93. Her work has been included in about 70 group exhibitions in Australia and overseas during the period 1964–2006.