Boy with a Watermelon

Antonio Dattilo Rubbo, Artist

This is one of the paintings in our collection. It was made in circa 1900-1950. The place where it was made is unknown.
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Object Detail

About the Work
I was captured by the vibrancy of the watermelon in this painting, so much so that for a moment, I was back up at Tieke on a hot January afternoon sitting at the table that you see as soon as you come up the hill. I’m eating a juicy piece of watermelon to cool down, and just watching people and the river below.
Ngāwai Matthews for the June 2020 instalment of the My Choice exhibition series.
Image 495 x 390mm
Frame 625 x 520mm
oil on canvas
As with many items in the Sarjeant Gallery Collection the way in which Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo’s Boy with a Watermelon came into our care is as interesting as the painting itself. Gifted to the Gallery in 1960 by a Mr A.A. Ellis, it joined eight other paintings by the Italian Australian artist, all of which arrived in New Zealand via artist Frances Ellis. Ellis was born in Taihape but lived much of her life in Sydney where she was a protégé of Dattilo-Rubbo. After his death in 1955 Ellis administered much of his artistic estate and during her various trips back to New Zealand to visit friends and family, like her brother A.A. Ellis, she distributed her teacher’s paintings, gifting five directly to the Sarjeant Gallery. All of this was part of her aim to solidify Dattilo-Rubbo’s artistic legacy, and his reputation as an energetic and influential teacher has ensured that he is still fondly remembered and respected in Australia.
In contrast to Dattilo-Rubbo’s favoured subject matter, the craggy faces of older men, this painting has nothing in his oeuvre (artistic body of work) to which it can be compared. The boy has his back to us, where Dattilo-Rubbo’s subjects are almost exclusively posed with emphasis on their faces – heads bowed in reverie or weariness, defiantly staring out of the canvas or coyly looking through their eyelashes. Where Boy with a Watermelon proves itself to be a true representation of Dattilo-Rubbo’s style is in its quickly but expertly rendered brushstrokes. His methods were explained to M J MacNally of the Daily Telegraph, 20 November 1926: ‘I have never been able to start a picture and devote myself to it for any long period. They have been built on the scraps of hours and I quite realise the consequence and result of such a method.’ The ‘result’ here is a painting that epitomises summer: fresh fruit and sun bleached hair.
- Sarah McClintock, Chronicle article 11 Jan 2014
Credit Line
Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Gift of Mr A. A. Ellis, 1960.
Collection Type
Permanent collection
Acquisition Date
12 Aug 1960



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