Ray Crooke / Australia 1922–2015 / Woman with blossoms unknown / Oil on canvas / 120.5 x 181.5cm / Gift of Mimi Brodie through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2016. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Ray Crooke. Licensed by Viscopy

Ray Crooke
Woman with blossoms c.1962–1963

Not Currently on Display

Ray Crooke was a romantic-realist artist who had a unique vision, particularly of the tropical north of Queensland. For more than fifty years he painted evocative and distinctive pictures that represented the light, shade, atmosphere and people of tropical landscapes. Woman with Blossoms is indicative of Crooke’s practice, with a darkened homely interior truncated by a slice of luminous sand and sea glimpsed through an open doorway. Here, his painterly style and block-like use of contrasting bright reds and textured browns combine to flatten the picture plane and disrupt our understanding of perspective.

Crooke’s figures have a static and monumental presence, appearing as players in his depictions of harmonious circadian routines of tropical life, rather than distinct personalities. This subject matter is central to Crooke’s oeuvre, which emphasised people within the landscape or in domestic settings going about their regular tasks.

In 1967, Russell Drysdale wrote in the foreword to ‘Paintings by Ray Crooke’, at the Johnstone Gallery, Brisbane, that ‘Ray Crooke … paints Australia’s tropical north as no one else has done … In his hands the unadorned interior of a simple dwelling becomes cool and quiet, warmed only by the glow of reflected light’ which ‘subtly transforms the figure … a moment of time imprisoned forever in amber’.1

Born in Melbourne in 1922, Ray Crooke began working in 1937 as a junior in a Melbourne advertising agency, studying three nights a week at Swinburne Technical College. At the outbreak of World War Two, Crooke enlisted in the army and was stationed on Thursday Island and at Cape York.

Here, Crooke met people whose lifestyle and lands captivated him and inspired the subject of his art. After the war Crooke returned to Swinburne Technical College as a student supported through the Commonwealth Reconstruction Program.

At Swinburne, he was taught by Sir William Dargie, Rodger James and Alan Jordan, among others. In 1951 Crooke married and returned to North Queensland, living and working in Cairns and on Thursday Island.

Crooke also lived for a short while in Brisbane in 1955, running a fabric printing business, before returning to Melbourne where he began teaching at Swinburne Technical College in 1957. In 1969 Crooke won the Archibald Prize with a portrait of his friend, the writer George Johnston, and in 1993 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to the visual arts.


Sue Smith. North of Capricorn: The Art of Ray Crooke [exhibition catalogue], Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville, 1997, p. 68.