In June 1954, Welsh born artist Edwin Tanner was living in Tasmania, working as an engineer with the Hydro Electric Commission. He moved to Melbourne in 1957.
Tanner (1920-1980) was a man of many parts. As well as being an artist and professional engineer he was an aircraft pilot, marksman, poet and philosopher.
Tanner’s oil painting The Engineers was purchased by the Tasmanian Art Gallery for 40 guineas. The picture shows two stylized figures at a drawing table, along with an electric heater, an empty waste paper basket and three milk bottles.
The Mercury newspaper published a photo of two somewhat bemused youngsters inspecting the painting;
Here is the painting in colour;
In April the same year Tanner had sold a similar work to the National Gallery for 25 guineas. This painting, titled The Public Servant’, caused a huge controversy. It was interpreted as suggesting that white collar government staff did little or no work. 😎
From the Melbourne Herald on May 7 1954;
Mr J. Dillon, a member of the Victorian Public Service Board, went even further, declaring; ‘There should be a deliberate independent action to protect against this particular libel of public servants.’
At least another work that year proved the public servant had been in the office, even if he appeared to on his way out. I love this painting.
Now here is a later work (1972) , and something entirely different! I wonder if it’s supposed to be the Yarra?
The inscription on it reads; “I think that the river is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable”, but wholly devoid of fish.
THE ESSENCE OF MR TANNER
How do you describe an artist whose work deftly and often wittily combines a diverse range of interests and expertise, including engineering, mathematics, aeronautics and analytic philosophy, together with a great passion for literature, poetry, music and art?
In the catalogue for his 1961 solo exhibition he was described as ‘…the sole member of the class mathematical expressionists’. It was also stated that he had a poetic sensibility for subtly modulated colour, muted tones and vivid evocations of stillness and space.
Tanner was also a competitive cyclist, which no doubt inspired the following work title Track Cyclist. It was completed in 1957, twelve months after the Melbourne Olympics.
EDWIN TANNER AT HOME
I was only able to find one photo of the artist, but it’s a most engaging one. He is standing on the left. Next to him is Professor Diesendorf, a fellow engineer.
In the 1950s Edwin Tanner was a student of Professor Sydney Orr at the University of Tasmania. He was in the same class as Susan Kemp and gave evidence against Orr in the famous 1950s sexual misconduct case. Click here for background to the scandal.