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Penniless painter to sponsor college educations


PAINTER David Dridan’s idea of “downsizing” is as beautiful as his art.

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The illustrious 86-year-old landscapist has decided to sell some of his art treasure now so that he can “share the joy” with his family while he is still alive.

At the same time, in sharing his collection with the world, he is liberating major works for exposure to new eyes.

He is handing over a treasured Horace Trenerry painting of Woodside, South Australia for sale through at dealer Jim Elder.

A sense of warmth and love links the justifications for sale. A quintessentially South Australian painter delivers another quintessentially South Australian painter's works, for a new life and exposure to new eyes.

And Horace Trenerry, that penniless Fleurieu Peninsula-based painter of the 1900s, is about to buy a good college education for the Dridan grandchildren.

“Now rather than when I am gone,” says Dridan, who does not look as if he going any time soon.

His clothes may hang a bit loose on his frame, but he's fit and energetic, with sparkling blue eyes which do not need glasses, strong teeth, a good head of silvery hair and a tough, fleet-moving body. Not to mention a pair of splendid bushy eyebrows with the optimist upturn of birds in flight.

Dridan still lives and works in Strathalbyn, a country town an hour south of Adelaide. His studio is adjacent to the family house, like a snug second home amid the blooming lavender, native shrubs and visiting magpies. He loves to explain that he came to roost in the Fleurieu Peninsula because his wife, Sarah, loved horses and dreamed of marrying a grazier. Homes in McLaren Vale and Clarendon preceded the old stone villa and studio in Strathalbyn. 

“I was 70 years old before I owned a house,” he confides. “Art is not a rich life, unless you are an Olsen or a Blackman or a Brack …”


He is working on a landscape series depicting Vivaldi's Four Seasons and each season stands propped against the studio wall in development under varying layers of paint and detail. Meanwhile, on the easel, a classic Dridan is underway, fine layer upon layer of Coorong grasses in fastidious progress.

Wine and music are his companions when painting. “Can't do it without,” he laughs.

That Dridan laughs a lot is evidenced by the lines creased out from his eyes. He's a jocular fellow with a quick, sense of self-deprecatory humour. His favourite painting buddies are Barry Humphries and John Olsen and each has a bed in a twin room off the studio.

His art collection is everywhere, large and small. 

There is a big Barry Humphries self-portrait and a humourous picture of Dridan at work. There are Olsens and Drysdales. Dridan cites Drysdale as a key influence and is devoted to his work and his memory.

There is also another Trennery on the wall – a small vista of the Flinders Ranges, double framed in gold with a large white border. It makes the gorgeous little Flinders view take on a telescopic perspective. Dridan loves it very much. It will not be part of his downsizing.

Dridan holds Trennery in a special place in his heart. He is expert in the artist's oeuvre, dividing it into classic periods – Woodside, Heysen and Willunga.

His “Silver and Blue” Woodside landscape was painted in 1924 and was exhibited at John Martins in the 1974 Adelaide Festival of Arts and, more recently, at Carrick Hill in the 2011 Trenerry retrospective curated by Lou Klepac. It is deemed a significant work, a rare item to come onto the market and has been put into the $55,000 to $65,000 auction range.

Dridan laments that Horace Trenerry was not among the myriad of significant Australian artists he has met.

Trenerry, who was born in 1899, died in 1958 in the Home for Incurables after debilitating years suffering from the inherited disease Huntington's Chorea.

“I've seen a lot of Trenerry's work because I helped arrange the big exhibition at John Martins's Gallery,” says Dridan. “The Heywards (of John Martins) had an enormous collection.”

Dridan says that before moving to Strathalbyn he had lots of Trenerry mementos – discharge papers, a health certificate, and an invitation from Government House.

“They had come up for sale at Theodore Bruce. But they have been misplaced,” he says.  “I am so disappointed.”

“But this Woodside is an important painting and it should go to a good collection.”

David Dridan is philosophical about parting with such a treasured work. He’s an admittedly addicted art collector, but he has always believed that paintings should not be kept in storage but where they can be seen by as many people as possible. Private homes are good, he says, but businesses and hotels are even better. To this end, he long has had his own system of lending out works from his collection. 

“I even have some on loan to my doctor,” he says. “I go to the doctor a lot so I can look at them,” he adds with a laugh.

Dridan's has enjoyed acclaim not only for his iconic and oft-emulated landscape art but also for his generous-spirited involvement in the arts in general.  

His 2007 Medal of the Order of Australia cited his contribution to wine and tourism in South Australia as well as art. Among other things, he was a founder, with wine identities Tony Parkinson and the late Greg Trott, of one of the world's richest landscape painting prizes: the Fleurieu Art Prize

The art prize calls for representations of landscape in all styles of painting. Not all entries are of the South Australian peninsula, but the Fleurieu's landscapes are the inspiration for it all.

The peninsula has always attracted art expression, from Aboriginal times through to most every landscapist who has visited it.

With its international kudos, the art prize has staked the Fleurieu throughout the arts world as a sort of landscapists' holy land – with Horace Trenerry and David Dridan very much part of its history and its ethos.

* The Horace Trenerry Woodside painting is part of the Elder Fine Art auction of Australian & International Paintings to be held on October 26 at 1pm with viewings at 106 and 110 Melbourne Street, Adelaide from 23rd October.

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story. Copied to Clipboard

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