Max Dupain

The Sunbaker, 1937
silver gelatin photograph
34.5 x 39.0 cm
signed and dated 'Max Dupain '37' (lower right)


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Richard King Gallery, Sydney
Acquired from the above by the present owner 1991

This actual photograph was exhibited in the touring exhibition Federation, curated by National Gallery of Australia.

The three Dupain photographs are being sold together.

'Sunbaker' is undoubtedly the most famous photograph made in Australia. The beauty of this image lies in its' simplicity in creating a powerful and mysterious image of the human form, as well as a symbol for the freedom of lifestyle found in Australia itself. At the end of a period of post-depression when Dupain made some of the most beautiful and cutting-edge images of the female nude, this image of the Sunbaker captures the turning of Australian morale from the depression era.

Dupain was 26 years old when fellow-photographer Olive Cotton (his first wife); friend Englishman Harold Savage and his wife all went on a holiday to Culburra Beach, south of Sydney. Dupain who always travelled with his camera, captured the moment of his very fit friend Savage flopping onto the beach after a swim. Sunbaker features the head and shoulders of this bronzed, male figure basking in the warming rays of the summer sun. Taken from a low angle, the figure appears to be embracing the land beneath, an acknowledgement by Dupain of our collective connection with the Australian landscape.

Although taken in 1937, Sunbaker stayed hidden in Dupains' library of works, making it's first significant appearance when it was used for the catalogue cover of the first Dupain survey exhibition held at the Australian Centre for Photography, in Sydney in 1975. Since then it has often been drawn upon to represent our sunburnt country, in particular, Qantas used it in one of their advertising campaigns.

  • The Sunbaker

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"Modern photography must do more than entertain, it must incite thought and by its clear statements of actuality, cultivate a sympathetic understanding of men and women and the life they create and live." (Max Dupain in Hall Missingham, Max Dupain: Photographs, Ure Smith Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1948. )

Widely regarded as one of Australia's iconic 20th century photographers, Dupain is known for simple, dramatic compositions of quintessential Australian subjects; landscapes, beaches, nudes, still life and architecture. His combination of striking formal composition and poignant social documentary made a major stylistic contribution to photography in Australia.

In Dupain's images of the Australian way of life and the development of the nation from the 1950s onwards, the pure forms of nudes, bodies on the beach or in the fields and, even building sites, were captured as expressions of public wellbeing.

After helping develop camouflage during the Second World War, and working as both a commercial and government photographer, Dupain became interested in documentary photography to capture truth through images in the post-war era. Rarely leaving Australia, Dupain was committed to his life's work of documenting Australian life and was instrumental in elevating photography from documentation to the place of art in Australia. In 1975 the Australian Centre for Photography mounted Max Dupain: A Retrospective 1930–1975, a touring exhibition that elevated Dupain and his famous image, The Sunbaker, to a level of national renown. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1982 and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1992. As of 2016, the State Library of NSW holds prints of Max Dupain's entire photographic output, including 28,000 negatives.