William Delafield Cook / Australia 1936–2015 / A haystack 1982 / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas / 183 x 305cm / Purchased 1982. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © QAG

William Delafield Cook
A haystack 1982

On Display: QAG, Gallery 12

A Haystack 1982 is one of a series of paintings that Delafield Cook produced on the subject between 1976 and 1983. While travelling through regional Victoria near Geelong, the artist drew a parallel between a sunlit haystack exposed in the Australian countryside and the ruins of ancient Greek temples he encountered during his early travels through Europe.

On the surface, this relationship can be understood as purely structural or as a reference to the light studies of Claude Monet’s impressions of haystacks. But on a more profound level, the series provides insights into Delafield Cook’s inner contemplation of his own mortality and his role as an artist.

In A Haystack, allusions to the ancient world are extended to the pyramids of the Aztecs and the Egyptians. The composition is tightly cropped, drawing viewers in close to observe the interplay between light and dark, the minute and the monumental, the photographic record and the skill of the painter.

The hyper-real painting of the haystack, down to each strand of hay, creates a tension between the tactility of the image and the reality of the canvas as a smooth, flat surface. The painting exists in the now, beyond the haystack it depicts, a reminder of the life and work of William Delafield Cook.

William Delafield Cook was born in Melbourne in 1936 and developed a keen interest in photography, binoculars and telescopes from an early age. His grandfather, William Delafield Cook senior, a painter and a teacher, was part of the Heidelberg School.

Delafield Cook was one of many Australians to travel to London in the 1950s and early 60s. During his early European travels he encountered ancient Greek temples, which would later influence his ‘haystack’ paintings of the 70s and 80s.

He studied and eventually taught at the Bath Academy of Art where he met his future wife, art student Sally Bovington. Together with their three children, they moved between homes in London and Sydney, and spent time in artist communities in Berlin, Mallorca and Paris. In 2013 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia.