John Perceval | From Cabbage Fields to Angry Penguins

Australian artist John de Burgh Perceval was born Linwood Robert Steven South on 1st February, 1923, at Bruce Rock, Western Australia. He was the second child of Robert South (a wheat farmer) and Dorothy (née Dolton).  His parents separated in 1925 and he remained at his father’s farm until reunited with his mother in Melbourne in 1935. Following the marriage of his mother to William de Burgh Perceval, he changed his name to John and adopted the surname de Burgh Perceval.

In 1938, John Perceval contracted polio and was hospitalised, giving him the opportunity to further his skills at drawing and painting. Enlisting in the army in 1941, Perceval first met and befriended Arthur Boyd. After leaving the army and moving into the Boyd family home, “Open Country“, at Murrumbeena, he married Boyd’s younger sister Mary in 1944. They had four children Matthew, Tessa, Celia and Alice.

  • Perceval was the last surviving member of a group known as the Angry Penguins who redefined Australian art in the 1940s. Other members included John and Sunday Reed, Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Perceval held his first solo exhibition at the Melbourne Book Club in 1948 and showed regularly with the Contemporary Art Society. Between 1949-1955 he concentrated on producing earthenware ceramics and helped to establish the Arthur Merric Boyd Pottery in Murrumbeena. Returning to painting in 1956, Perceval produced a series of images of Williamstown and Gaffney’s Creek.

Moving to England in 1963, Perceval held solo exhibitions in London and travelled to Europe, before returning to Australia in 1965 to take up the first Australian National University Creative Fellowship. His first major retrospective exhibition was held at Albert Hall, Canberra, in 1966. Suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia in 1974, Perceval was admitted to Larundel, psychiatric hospital, in suburban Melbourne, where he remained until 1981.

  • John Perceval: A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings was held at Heide Park and Art Gallery in 1984. Perceval was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1991, the year after the National Gallery of Victoria organised another retrospective exhibition.

Perceval’s last exhibition was held on 19 August-19 October,2000 at Galeria Aniela Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park which included 80 oil paintings and works on paper from 1946 -1999. Perceval died just four days short of the end of the retrospective, on 15th October, 2000. He is survived by his four children, all of whom are artists today.

Images included:
Mirka’s Studio 1961. Oil on canvas on composition board 76.2cm x 101.6cm
Boy in the Night 1985. Oil on canvas and composition board 51cm x 61cm
Cabbage Field Oakleigh c. 1948. Oil on canvas, 54 x 84.5 cm.
Tucker Outer 1971. Oil on canvas 35.5cm x 45.5cm
The Market Garden. Oil on canvas 81.5cm x 102cm 

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John Perceval by Margaret Plant. Lansdowne Australian Art Library: Melbourne, 1971
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