Jon Molvig / Australia 1923–70 / Charles Blackman 1957 / Oil on composition board / 55.9 x 41.7cm / Gift of Miss Pamela Bell in honour of Marjorie and Brian Johnstone 1986 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Otte Bartzis

Jon Molvig
Charles Blackman 1957

Not Currently on Display

Jon Molvig and Charles Blackman shared an affinity for Brisbane. The city offered them a freedom that would have been hard to find in the more established art centres of Sydney and Melbourne. It was perhaps inevitable that the two would meet and develop a mutual respect for each other and their work.

Molvig’s 1957 portrait of Blackman refers not only to their friendship, but also to Blackman’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ series. In Molvig’s portrait, Blackman is accompanied by a rabbit, and both figures are surrounded by a sea of blue and white flowers, elements which can be found in Blackman’s The Blue Alice 1956–57.

Molvig painted a second portrait of Charles Blackman (Art Gallery of South Australia), which won the Archibald Prize in 1966.

Jon Molvig was born in Newcastle, Australia, in 1923. After serving in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War Two, Molvig studied art for three years in Sydney, then went on to travel throughout Europe, where he encountered the German and Norwegian expressionists who would significantly influence his work.

From 1955 until his death in 1970, Molvig was based in Brisbane. A complex man, his career was characterised by radical shifts in style. Molvig was also known for his highly considered exploration of technique and the power of his symbolism.

It’s a matter of inventing symbols for what you want to say and putting the symbols down in paint . . . I believe that for every subject you tackle you must invent a new set of symbols and sometimes a new technique to say what you want to say.— Jon Molvig


1 Jon Molvig Interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg Collection [sound recording], Hazel de Berg Collection, National Library of Australia, Canberra; DeB 15, June 1961, <>, accessed July 2019.

Discussion Questions

1. Compare Molvig’s Charles Blackman 1957 with Charles Blackman’s painting The Blue Alice 1956–57 (Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art).

2. How has Molvig used symbolism in this portrait of his fellow artist?

Classroom Activities

Create a self-portrait and include specific symbols that emphasise one or more of your characteristics or interests.

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