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Lawson Balfour (1870-1966)
The Coming Storm 1923
oil on canvas
45 x 51.5 cm
Gift of Howard Hinton 1938


Born 1870, Melbourne. Died 1966, Woy Woy.

(James) Lawson Balfour's father and uncle were both artists who had their own studios. The young Balfour studied at Herkomer School, England, and exhibited with the Royal Society of British Artists and the New Watercolour Society in his 20s. He continued his training in Paris, spending one year with Cormon, and three at the Académie Julian. He spent a few years in New Zealand, then settled in Sydney, where he painted portraits of well-known citizens. He was a Fellow of the Royal Art Society and gave private lessons for many years, directing the Balfour Art School from 1922-24. He was commissioned by the Commonwealth Government to paint the portrait of Sir Joseph Banks.

Balfour's formal portraits tended towards a conventional tonal rendering but were distinguished by their sophisticated technique and knowledge of oil as a medium. His portrait of fellow artist William Lister Lister was entered in the Archibald Prize in 1923, the year in which three of Balfour's portraits made the finalists list, and the year he undertook this work, The Coming Storm.

He made many sketches of  Sydney's Northern beaches where he lived from 1912. In this sketchy  beach scene the ominous sky dominates two thirds of the picture. Balfour has used hasty brushstrokes to realise indistinct figures on the shore and rocks. The parasol near the centre is a reminder of the sunlight in which these figures would have been basking only moments before. Whilst those in the distance appear to be hoping for a few more minutes of enjoyment, the people in the foreground are packing up to escape the coming storm. No one is in the water.