Jon Molvig / Australia 1923–70 / The cattle grid 1958 / Oil on composition board / 45.8 x 59cm / Bequest of Errol Blair de Normanville Joyce OBE 1983 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Otte Bartzis

Jon Molvig
The cattle grid 1958

Not Currently on Display

In his quest to develop a personal vision of Australia, Jon Molvig set off in 1958 to experience the landscape firsthand, travelling from Brisbane to Darwin through Central Australia. Molvig would spend the next few months painting his way through the store of images from this trip to the outback.

The cattle grid is one of a group of paintings based on the sparse features of a desolate landscape. Large sheets of galvanised iron mark the position of the cattle grid, the only sign of human habitation of the area.

In many of Molvig’s other works, the sun is a powerful and complex symbol, but here the radiating disc is a straightforward representation of the bright and intense heat of the Australian landscape.

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.

Dicussion Questions

1. Discuss the composition of The cattle grid. Consider several elements — symmetry, movement and the placement of the horizon line.

Classroom Activities

1. Research examples of the sun in art. Compare at least two different representations of the sun and consider symbolic meaning and cultural context.

2. Experiment with the application of paint, composition, form and colour to create a symbolic landscape. Write an artist statement that explains your intended meaning through your choice of symbols, colours, shapes and textures.

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