Michael Kmit

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Michael Kmit
Michael Kmit (1975).jpg
Michael Kmit in 1975
Born (1910-07-25)25 July 1910
Stryi, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (Now Ukraine)
Died 22 May 1981(1981-05-22) (aged 70)
Sydney, Australia
Nationality Ukrainian Australian
Education Kraków Academy of Fine Arts
Notable work Evangelist John Mark, The Voice of Silence, Philopena
Movement neo-Byzantine, Cubism, Constructivism
Awards Blake Prize (1954), Sulman Prize (1957 and 1970)

Michael Kmit (Ukrainian: Михайло Кміт) (25 July 1910 in Stryi, Lviv – 22 May 1981 in Sydney, Australia) was a Ukrainian painter who spent twenty-five 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".[1]

Arrival in Australia[edit]

Michael Kmit studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Kraków, but due to the conflict in World War II, he was forced to leave his homeland and found himself a displaced person in Innsbruck, Austria where he met Dorothea (Edda) in 1945. They married in Landeck and later moved to Bregenz where his two daughters, Xenia & Tania (Tatiana) were born, in 1946 and 1948. While in post-war Europe Kmit studied under cubist Fernand Léger in Paris, and futurist Carlo Carrà in Italy.[2]

Kmit emigrated to Australia in 1949, as part of the Australian Government's immigration scheme. He was contracted to work in Sydney for two years in a job selected for him by the Australian Government's employment service.[3] He initially worked at a cement factory in Villawood, New South Wales, and then as a railway porter as contracted reimbursement for his passage. 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 lodging at Merioola and work nearer to the artist community in Sydney. Painting at night, during the day Kmit worked as a railway porter and cleaner[4][5] while he established himself "as one of Australia's best artists" of the time.[3] He lived in Elizabeth Bay with his family until he moved to the United States.

Influence on Australian Art[edit]

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[6] (also known as the "Charm School").[7] Gleeson described Kmit as "one of the most sumptuous colourists of our time".[1] 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."[8]

After winning a string of awards including the Blake Prize (1953) and the Sulman Prize (1957), he left Australia for the United States in 1958, residing in the San Francisco-Bay Area of California. His American period did not result in a lot of success and also, due to the end of his marriage, 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. He married Norma Randall a few years after his return to Australia and his son Michael Kmit Junior was born in May, 1968. 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.[6]


In 1951 Michael Kmit showed his work for the first time in Brisbane at the Johnstone Gallery, where the owner Brian Johnstone intended to exhibit "the most creative work in Australia today", particularly that of "brilliant" younger artists.[9] Until his death 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 a member and exhibited with the Sydney branch of the Contemporary Art Society, the "Sydney Group" and the Society of Artists.[10] He was also an honorary member, and exhibited with the Ukrainian Artists Society of Australia.[11][12]

A selection of exhibitions included:[13]

  • 1951 — Contemporary Art Society (NSW) Annual Exhibition[14]
  • 1952 — Society of Artists Spring Exhibition, Sydney[15]
  • 1952 — Show of Sixes Annual Exhibition, Macquarie Galleries[16]
  • 1952 — Contemporary Art Society (NSW) 14th Annual Exhibition[17]
  • 1953 — Society of Artists Annual Exhibition, Department of Education Art Gallery, Sydney[18]
  • 1953 — Show of Sixes Annual Exhibition, Macquarie Galleries[19]
  • 1954 — Contemporary Art Society (NSW) Annual Exhibition[20]
  • 1954 — Exhibited with the Sydney Group
  • 1956 — Society of Artists Annual Exhibition[21]
  • 1956 — 'Contemporary Australian Painting', Pacific Loan Exhibition, Art Gallery of NSW and on board the SS Orcades
  • 1957 — Society of Artists Exhibition of drawings and prints. David Jones Art Gallery[22]
  • 1957 — Show of Eights, Macquarie Galleries[23]
  • 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)
  • 2010 — Centenary Exhibition (retrospective), Studio W – Woolloomooloo Sydney


  • 1952 — Blake Prize for Religious Art (Second prize of 50 guineas) – with The Ascension[24][25]
  • 1953 — Blake Prize for Religious Art with The Evangelist, John Mark[26]
  • 1954 — Perth Prize for Contemporary Art with King's Cross Facade[27][28]
  • 1955 — Critics Prize for Contemporary Art[13]
  • 1956 — Darcy Morris Memorial Prize[13]
  • 1957 — Sulman Prize — with The Voice of Silence[29]
  • 1967 — Melrose Art Prize, Adelaide ($500)[30]
  • 1970 — Sulman Prize — with Philopena[29]

Collections held[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b James Gleeson (1969). Masterpieces of Australian Painting. Melbourne: Landsdowne Press. p. 166. ISBN 0701800003. 
  2. ^ Moore, Tom Inglis (1953). Australia writes: an anthology (edited for the Canberra Fellowship of Australian Writers). F.W. Cheshire. p. 185. 
  3. ^ a b Harold Holt, Australian Minister for Immigration (April 1956). "The New Face of Australia". The Rotarian: 14. 
  4. ^ "Religious Art Prize Winner Is A Railway Porter.". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 April 1953. p. 1. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Ukrainian artist, Michael Kmit cleaning trains (Photograph). National Archives of Australia, NAA: A12111. 1953. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "Michael Kmit 1910–1981". Cbus Collection of Australian Art. Retrieved 7 May 2014. 
  7. ^ The name "The Sydney Charm School" was used (sometimes disparaginly) 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.
  8. ^ Hughes, Robert (1970). The Art of Australia (2 ed.). Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin. p. 204. 
  9. ^ Martin-Chew, Louise (2007). "Johnstone, Brian William Wallace (1920–1988)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. 
  10. ^ Dutton, Geoffrey (ed.) (1992). Artist's Portraits. National Library Australia. p. 113. ISBN 9780642105790. 
  11. ^ Yekelchuk, Serhiy (1994). "Зберігаючи спадщину: Нарис історії української спільноти в Австралії" [Preserving heritage: history of the Ukrainian community in Australia]. Almanac of Ukrainian life in Australia (in Ukrainian). Sydney: The Free Thought and the Ukrainian Studies Foundation in Australia. p. 36. ISBN 0-908168-04-7. 
  12. ^ Kravchenko, Peter (1994). "СУОМА (НПВ): Спілка Українських Образотворчих Мистців Австралії (НПВ)" [SUOMA (NSW): Ukrainian Artists Society of Australia (NSW)]. Almanac of Ukrainian life in Australia (in Ukrainian). Sydney: The Free Thought and the Ukrainian Studies Foundation in Australia. pp. 419–421. ISBN 0-908168-04-7. 
  13. ^ a b c Body and Soul: Exhibition 19 September – 15 October 1988. Monash University Gallery. 1988. pp. 20–21. ISBN 0867468920. 
  14. ^ "Contemporary Art Society Show.". The Sydney Morning Herald. 26 May 1951. p. 2. Retrieved 25 October 2015. 
  15. ^ Society of Artists Spring Exhibition Sydney 1952. Society of Artists. 1952. 
  16. ^ Sydney Nolan; et al. (1952). Annual Exhibition Show of Sixes. Society of Artists. 
  17. ^ "Social News And Gossip.". The Sunday Herald. 2 November 1952. p. 23. Retrieved 25 October 2015. 
  18. ^ Society of Artists' Annual Exhibition. Department of Education Art Gallery, Sydney. Society of Artists. 1953. 
  19. ^ Margaret Olley; et al. (1953). Annual Exhibition Show of Sixes (1953). 
  20. ^ "Originality Displayed In Pictures.". The Sydney Morning Herald. 21 April 1954. p. 2. Retrieved 25 October 2015. 
  21. ^ Society of Artists Annual Exhibition, 1956. Society of Artists. 1965. 
  22. ^ Society of Artists Exhibition of Drawings and Prints. David Jones’ Art Gallery, Sydney. Society of Artists. 1957. 
  23. ^ Donald Friend; et al. Show of Eights 1957. Macquarie Galleries. 
  24. ^ "Review Of Blake Art Prize.". The Sydney Morning Herald. 11 March 1952. p. 2. Retrieved 27 April 2014. 
  25. ^ "Blake Art Prize Winner". Sydney Morning Herald. 11 March 1952. p. 6. Retrieved 27 April 2014. 
  26. ^ "Works shown in the exhibition "The Blake Prize 1953"". Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 27 April 2014. 
  27. ^ "Wins for Two NSW Artists". Sydney Morning Herald. 3 August 1954. p. 1. Retrieved 27 April 2014. 
  28. ^ "KNIGHT MAKES CALL FOR NEW ART ERA.". The West Australian. Perth. 4 August 1954. p. 11. Retrieved 27 April 2014. 
  29. ^ a b "Sir John Sulman Prize". Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 27 April 2014. 
  30. ^ "Ukrainian Festival". Canberra Times. ACT. 17 August 1967. p. 9. Retrieved 27 April 2014. 


  • '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