Australian Poems on European Paintings


Poems on paintings may not immediately strike one as an important genre in Australian literature, especially in comparison, for example, with poems on the Australian landscape. Moreover, they might appear second hand, non-Australian and elitist in their cosmopolitan orientation, inspired as they are almost exclusively by European art. Yet many of Australia's major poets have tried their hand at this time-honoured genre, which counts among its modern practitioners such illustrious names as Swinburne, Rossetti, Baudelaire, Rilke, Yeats and Auden. Nor does its attractiveness seem to have suffered in the age of the mechanical reproduction of the work of art, on the contrary: for the period 1950-1980, an expert in this field, Gisbert Kranz, counted no fewer than 148 published collections containing poems on visual art. For various reasons, Australian poets have come to this genre comparatively late and with a certain reluctance. Still, the earliest example listed in Kranz's standard work Das Bildgedicht, Kenneth Slessor's 'The Embarkation for Cythera', was published in Poetry in Australia in 1923, Fifteen years before W.H. Auden's classic 'Musée des Beaux Arts'.

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Published 1 June 1991 in European Perspectives: Contemporary Essays on Australian Literature. Subjects: Art, Literature & writers.

Cite as: Senn, Werner. ‘Australian Poems on European Paintings.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 15, no. 2, 1991, doi: 10.20314/als.88270ae11c.