Focus exhibitions offer an opportunity to highlight certain aspects of the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. This exhibition presents the fascinating series of twenty etchings by Theo Scharf titled Night in a city, 1923.
Theo Scharf was born in Melbourne in 1899. Encouraged by his artistic parents, Scharf was acclaimed as a child prodigy and at 14 years of age his first exhibition clearly demonstrated his talent for art. The proceeds from the exhibition enabled him to realise his dream of travelling to study abroad. Immigrating to Munich, Germany in 1914 he became a painter, printmaker and illustrator. In the early 1920s, he produced his best remembered work, Night in a city, a portfolio of twenty etchings. Scharf later became a war artist for Nazi Germany and with the exception of 6 years in Melbourne in the 1950s, Germany was to remain his home for the rest of his life.
The series, Night in a city, is a satirical account of the night-life of a typical European city from early evening to dawn. In Scharf's depictions of characters flitting through shadowy streets, theatres, night clubs and restaurants, he reveals, with a biting sardonic wit, the dark underbelly of modern society. Every social type is represented, from stuffy bourgeois burgher to slender aesthete, shop girl to thick-set working man, as well as those from the shadowy world of thieves and prostitutes.
Like Otto Dix and George Grosz, Scharf was a master of caricature, and his lively portrayal of the human condition against the banalities of mass society is testimony to his talent both as a satirist and as a masterful printmaker.
A key feature of each print is the bright contrast between electric or moon-light against the shadows of the night, a counterpoint to the familiar light of day. These strong qualities of light and shade lend the city a magical, mysterious, thrilling and sometimes threatening aspect. This is brilliantly expressed in the graphic medium of etching, in which clarity of line and tone lends a directness that heightens the atmosphere of the images.
Anne Ryan and Natalie Wilson, curators of the exhibition, will present a number of floor-talks. Anne Ryan - Saturday 22 April at 1pm and Wednesday 26 April at 5.30pm and Natalie Wilson - Thursday 11 May at 3pm.