Michael Kmit in 1975
25 July 1910|
Stryi, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria
|Died||22 May 1981
|Training||Kraków Academy of Fine Arts|
|Movement||neo-Byzantine, Cubism, Constructivism|
|Works||Evangelist John Mark, The Voice of Silence, Philopena|
|Awards||Blake Prize (1954), Sulman Prize (1957 and 1970)|
Michael Kmit (Ukrainian: Михайло Кміт) (*25 July 1910, Stryi, — †22 May 1981 Sydney, Australia) was a Ukrainian painter who spent twenty-five of his most productive years in Australia. He is notable for introducing a neo-Byzantine style of painting to Australia, and winning a number of major Australian art prizes including the Blake Prize (1952) and the Sulman Prize (in both 1957 and 1970). In 1969 the Australian artist and art critic James Gleeson described Kmit as “one of the most sumptuous colourists of our time”.
Arrival in Australia
Michael Kmit studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Cracow, but due to the conflict in World War II, he was forced to leave his homeland and found himself a displaced person. He studied art under Fernand Léger in Paris, and Carlo Carrà in Italy, before emigrating to Australia in 1949, as part of the Australian Government's immigration scheme. Kmit was contracted to work in Sydney for two years in a job selected for him by the Australian Government's employment service. He initially worked at a cement factory in Villawood, New South Wales, but after Kmit met the artists James Gleeson and Paul Haefliger, who were impressed with his work, he was introduced to other artists including Donald Friend and Russell Drysdale. His artist friends later helped him find lodgings and work nearer to the artist community in Sydney. Painting at night, during the day Kmit worked as a railway porter and cleaner while he established himself "as one of Australia's best artists" of the time.
Kmit's images, inspired by the Byzantine style of religious icon painting, were well received in Australia for their fresh approach and new subjects. Labeled neo-Byzantine, his paintings integrated stylized portraiture with geometric cubist and constructivist forms, patterns and vivid color.
During the 1950s, before leaving for the United States at the latter end of the decade, Kmit was a major influence on many artists, particularly those of the Merioola Group (sometimes disparagingly referred to as the "Sydney Charm School"). Gleeson described Kmit as “one of the most sumptuous colourists of our time”. Paul Haefliger wrote: “Of all the foreign aspirants to art who have visited these shores since the war, Michael Kmit is the only one who has made an impression on the present generation of painters.”
After winning a string of awards including the Blake Prize (1953) and the Sulman Prize (1957), he left Australia for the United States. His American period did not result in a lot of success and he went through a period of depression. Returning in 1965 his style and format had changed and the high praise for his work was replaced with cautious criticism. However, by the time "Cassandra" (1979) was painted, only two years before his death, Kmit had returned to the previous vigour of his 1950s works.
Between 1950 and 1981 Michael Kmit exhibited in numerous group shows throughout the Australian States of Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia, including selections for the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes. Kmit was an honorary member, and exhibited with the Ukrainian Artists Society of Australia.
A selection of exhibitions included:
- 1954 — Exhibited with the Sydney Group
- 1956 — 'Contemporary Australian Painting', Pacific Loan Exhibition, Art Gallery of NSW and on board the SS Orcades
- 1965 — Dominion Galleries, Darlinghurst Sydney
- 1965 — Australian Galleries, Melbourne
- 1968 — Solo exhibition, Von Bertouch Galleries, Newcastle
- 1979 — Solo exhibition, Niagara Lane Galleries, Melbourne (7–27 June 1979)
- 1974 — Group Show Official Opening of Phillip Bacon Galleries Queensland
- 1979 — Solo exhibition in Holdsworth Galleries Woollahra, Sydney
- 1980 — Solo Exhibition at the Fine Art Gallery, Western Australia
- 1980 — Blake Exhibition in Sydney
- 1982 — Solo exhibition, Von Bertouch Galleries, Newcastle (26 Feb – 14 Mar 1982)
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (January 2014)|
- 1952 — Blake Prize for Religious Art (Second prize of 50 guineas) – with "The Ascension"
- 1953 — Blake Prize for Religious Art—("Evangelist John Mark")
- 1954 — Perth Prize for Contemporary Art
- 1955 — Critics Prize for Contemporary Art
- 1956 — Darcy Morris Memorial Prize
- 1957 — Sulman Prize — with "The Voice of Silence"
- 1967 — Melrose Prize, Adelaide
- 1970 — Sulman Prize — with "Philopena"
- Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat
- National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
- Art Gallery of New South Wales
- National Gallery of Victoria
- Art Gallery of Western Australia
- Art Gallery of South Australia
- Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
- Collections in Universities of Sydney, Queensland, and Monash
- Harold E. Mertz Collection of Australian Art, University of Texas, USA
- Cbus Collection of Australian Art
Notes and references
- James Gleeson, Masterpieces of Australian Art, Melbourne: Lansdowne, 1969, p. 166.
- Moore, T. I. Australia writes: an anthology edited for the Canberra Fellowship of Australian Writers, published by F.W. Cheshire, 1953
- Harold Holt, Australian Minister for Immigration. "The New Face of Australia", The Rotarian April 1956, p.12
- "Religious Art Prize Winner Is A Railway Porter.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW). 8 April 1953. p. 1. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
- Photo of Michael Kmit cleaning trains, from the National Archives of Australia, Image no. : A12111, 1/1953/6/7
- Harold Holt, Australian Minister for Immigration. "The New Face of Australia", The Rotarian April 1956, p.14
- The name "The Sydney Charm School" was used by the Australian Art critic Robert Hughes to describe a group of artists, including painters William Dobell, Russell Drysdale, Donald Friend, Lloyd Rees, Jeffrey Smart, Jean Bellette, Paul Haefliger, David Strachan, Sali Herman and applied artists Wallace Thornton, Loudon Sainthill and Wolfgang Cardamatis. In 1975 Hughes presented a 30 minute episode made for television titled Charm School.
- Quoted in Robert Hughes, The Art of Australia, 2nd ed. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin, 1970, p. 204.
- Michael Kmit 1910–1981
- 'Michael Kmit Paintings 1953-1979', Niagara Lane Galleries, Melbourne, exhibition catalogue, 7–27 June 1979
- 'Michael Kmit', Von Bertouch Galleries, Newcastle, exhibition list, 26 Feb – 14 Mar 1982