The fossicker

Born Sussex, England 1912, arrived Australia 1923, died Sydney 1981


George Russell Drysdale studied in Melbourne under George Bell (1931–38), and in London and Paris respectively at the Grosvenor School (1938–39) and La Grande Chaumière (1939). He also spent much time working and travelling in rural and outback Australia.

His experience of Hill End in New South Wales in 1947, to which he travelled with fellow artist Donald Friend, was the impetus for many paintings and drawings including The fossicker. The town was a strange and desolate place and survived on fossicking and rabbit hunting, offering a surreal, otherworldly subject matter. This landscape and its inhabitants inspired some of Drysdale’s most famous paintings such as The rabbiters (1947) and The cricketers (1948).

Drysdale’s powerful and unique images of the Australian landscape as empty and drought-ravaged gave him an international reputation as an Australian outback painter. His works express the perceived isolation of people in remote areas, alienated from each other and in their relationship to the land and its Indigenous inhabitants.

Drysdale has been the subject of major retrospectives (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1960), and Russell Drysdale 1912–1981, National Gallery of Victoria and touring nationally (1997). During his career he exhibited widely, winning major awards including the Wynne Prize for landscape painting in 1947. He was knighted in 1969. Drysdale’s work is held in all major state and regional galleries including the National Gallery of Australia, and in the collections of the Tate Gallery, London and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.