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 Horace Hurtle Trennery  (1899 - 1958)

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Lived/Active: Australia      Known for: painting

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Road, Aldinga Hill c.1940
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Bonhams Australia:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Every year or so I pass through Adelaide, on my way back from a painting trip to Middleback Station (west of Whyalla).  The first thing I do when I get off at the bus station is pace the five or six blocks to the Art Gallery of South Australia to have a look at the Horace Trenerry paintings there. Tucked in a corner of the 1940s room, Trenerry's landscapes of Willunga and the Flinders Ranges invariably sing out to me from the walls.  Their resonance, the way they make the worthy pictures around them look a bit lacklustre, is similar to seeing a Vermeer in a room of chocolatey Dutch genre paintings.  Trenerry is an artist really at grace with the landscape he loved.  The veracity of his interpretations of light, the way he took risks with paint, his unique sense of design, set him apart from his peers. 

Horace Trenerry was very much a provincial painter, spending nearly all his life in South Australia, and most of his best work still resides in this state.  It was in the Art Gallery of South Australia bookshop that I discovered Lou Klepac's book on him, the 1970 edition, still being sold as 'new'.

The son of a butcher, Horace Trenerry was born in Adelaide in 1899. After leaving school he got a job bottling cough mixture and attended drawing classes at night. His first artistic influences and teachers were local, until 1923, when he studied for a few months at the Julian Ashton art School in Sydney.  Here he met and befriended Elioth Gruner.  His early work shows an influence of Gruner and especially of Hans Heysen, who also became his friend.  His first Adelaide exhibitions, of landscapes done in the nearby hills, sold well.  He was considered a precocious young artist to watch. 

A major change took place when he traveled north on a painting trip with a friend to the Flinders Ranges in the 1920s.  In those days such expeditions were fairly arduous undertakings, months in duration.  They took half a sheep and many potatoes.  He painted a great deal up there, but destroyed a lot of work as well.  The new pictures had a disciplined vigour about them and a simplification of form, quite different from the golden-hued Rubenesque landscapes of Heysen.  Perhaps his earlier patrons found these pictures too crude or harsh, for sales declined and his life became a bit of a struggle.

When Trenerry did have money he was profligate with it, buying drinks for friends and smart clothes.  There was also a humiliating brush with the law over the theft of some poultry, for which he was lucky to receive a fine rather than a prison sentence. He could, however, always count on the support of loyal friends, including artist Kathleen Sauerbier who had lived in Europe and possibly introduced him to the work of Cezanne and Sickert. 

Trenerry lived in various houses in the country south of Adelaide and continued to paint.  Indeed, this was to be the decade of his strongest work.  It is a period of painting which reminds me of van Gogh's time in Arles, when a variety of influences reach a confluence and great pictures emerge with a natural energy.  In Trenerry's works from the '30s and early '40s there is a bold handling of form and space, a particularity of place and weather and a wonderful freshness. 

In 1941 Trenerry was diagnosed with Huntington's Chorea, a disease that attacks the central nervous system, balance and sight.  He didn't stop painting but as the disease took hold of him, his pictures became paler in tone, like something seen through a salt-covered windscreen, and took on an angular expressionist quality that was almost incoherent at times.  Road, Aldinga Hill, painted in 1940, is amongst his finest works, one of several road pictures, all of which eschew the clichés of this motif.  The combination of roughness and subtlety is perfectly balanced here ? choppy blue-black brush lines define roads, fence lines, houses and paddocks, dividing off areas of almost unmodulated and chalky color. (It is said he used to leave his pictures out in the dew to get rid of the shine).   The shadows in the distant ranges are clearly defined, their tone and blueness perfect, the brightest touch of colour being the orange roof of the farthest homestead.  The sky is not blue but suggests a hot fine day.  The whole scene is suffused with heat haze.  When I look at this painting I feel as though I have just toiled up a long hill on my bicycle and see with pleasure, for the first time, over the crest, the line of ranges at the other side of the valley and the swooping descent just ahead.

Horace Trenerry died in 1958 at the lugubriously named Home for Incurables in Fullarton.  Four years before that, in 1953, he was pushed through a small retrospective of his works, put together by his friends ?- the master of South Australian landscape, now bony and twisted, in a wheelchair.

Tom Carment

Lou Klepac, Horace Trenerry, Beagle Press, Sydney, 2009 Ian Burn,
National Life & Landscapes
, Bay Books, Sydney, 1990
Australian Dictionary of Biography
, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne 1990, vol. 12

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