Jeffrey Smart was Australia’s pre-eminent painter of the contemporary world. Born in Adelaide, in 1921, his first ambition was to be an architect, and though he eventually trained as an artist his love of the created environment remained. He taught art in Adelaide from 1941 until 1948, when he left Australia for London, travelling via the United States. In 1949 he studied under Fernand Léger in Paris, at the Academie Montmartre, and also as La Grande Chaumière. He returned to Australia in 1952, and worked as art critic for the Sydney ‘Daily Telegraph’ until 1954 and he was known to many Australian children as Phidias on the ABC Radio program ‘The Argonauts’ in the 1950s. Not until 1964 was he able to devote himself entirely to painting, when he made the move to Italy, where he lived until his recent death, but he returned frequently to Australia. In 1999 the Art Gallery of NSW held a major retrospective of his work.
Smart finds the poetry in modern urban environments and distils it into his compositions. The traveller assumes the presence of a cityscape, but the picture is predominantly composed around the form of the buses. There is also a tension between the purely formal elements of line and colour and the suggestion of narrative implied by the figure. The inclusion of the traveller in Smart’s urban composition reinserts a human presence into the formal concerns of modernist painting.