Brett Whiteley / Australia 1939–92 / White dove feeling the universe 1985–92 / Oil on plywood / 80.5 x 76.8cm / Gift of the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Foundation for the Arts through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2012. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Wendy Whiteley

Brett Whiteley
White dove feeling the universe 1985–1992

Not Currently on Display

This painting is a lyrical depiction of serenity. It embodies Brett Whiteley’s life-long belief that birds symbolised all that was hopeful and poetic in a corrupt world, a symbol reinforced by his romantic choice of title for the painting.

To the ancient Greeks and Romans, doves represented love and devotion, and care for a family; the dove was also the sacred animal of Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love in each culture. In Christian belief the dove has religious connotations of divine attribution and it has been used in Western art for centuries to represent the manifestation of the Holy Spirit: it is the dove that returns to Noah with an olive branch to signal the end of the flood.

Pablo Picasso created a design using the dove for the emblem of the First International Peace Conference in Paris in 1949, which became a widely-used symbol for peace.

Brett Whiteley was born in Sydney in 1939. He took night classes at the Julian Ashton School in Sydney from 1957 to 1959 and, at 21, was awarded an Italian Travelling Scholarship. After some months in Italy he travelled to London where he was introduced to the British painter Francis Bacon, who became a close friend and significant artistic influence.

Whiteley began showing at major London galleries and he was the youngest painter ever to have work acquired by the Tate Gallery. In 1961, he presented work in the prestigious ‘Survey of Recent Australian Painting’ at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. He continued to exhibit widely in Europe during the 1960s and between 1967 and 1969 travelled to the United States on a Harkness Foundation Scholarship.

Upon his return to Australia in 1969, Whiteley rapidly established himself as the pre-eminent young artist, and achieved both popular and critical acclaim. In 1976 he won both the Archibald Prize for portraiture – with Self- Portrait in the studio (Art Gallery New South Wales collection) – and the Sir John Sulman Prize for Genre. He was awarded the Art Gallery New South Wales’ Wynne Prize for landscape in 1977 and in 1978 won all three major prizes for a second time, demonstrating his mastery over a range of artistic genres.

Throughout his career Whiteley worked prolifically, producing drawings, ceramics, paintings and sculptures. In 1991 he was awarded an Order of Australia (General Division). Brett Whiteley died in Thirroul, NSW, on 15 June 1992, at the height of his artistic career.

Discussion Questions

1. What does the title White dove feeling the universe mean to you?

2. Research the symbolism of white doves and gather artworks and designs that depict the bird.

Classroom Activities

Using an animal or plant as your inspiration, create a symbol for a cause that you feel passionate about. Design your graphic on Photoshop and print it out for the class to interpret.