Feature

Painting a picture of Wesley Penberthy

Acclaimed Australian artist, the late Wesley Penberthy called Yamba home since 1990.
Acclaimed Australian artist, the late Wesley Penberthy called Yamba home since 1990.

YAMBA lost nonergenrian artist Wesley Penberthy in August, the masterful painter's contribution to the Australian arts landscape peaking in 1955 when he won the prestigious Sulman Prize for his work Oriental Mural.

Born in Broken Hill in 1920, Penberthy became enamoured by art at age five when he saw a portrait of Rembrandt's mother, but it wasn't until he was 15 he began getting serious about it, the family home in Camberwell, Vic. full of exotic scenes painted on every conceivable surface a testament to this.

Penberthy moved to Western Australian to study the "techniques of the masters" at Perth Technical College and under the tutlage of the great Norman Lindsay for many years. His Salvation Army minister father and mother also influenced the painter, reoccuring theme of religion staying with him his whole life.

Penberthy was the first post-war rehabilitation student at the Melbourne National Gallery School and has exhibited widely since 1940 specialising in industrial murals which are located in various locations around Melbourne including Little Bourke Street and Moreland (Salvation Army) City Corps.

Among his lasting legacies are the beautiful ceiling paintings at Beleura House, a National Trust home on the Mornington Peninsula. He also painted the giant murals that surrounded the MCG for the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.

Bare-foot and chested, the dashing artist in the 1960s.
Bare-foot and chested, the dashing artist in the 1960s. News Corp Australia

Penberthy served in the 2/24th battalion in the WW2 and spent time in an Army survey company making maps where he met and painted with David Boyd who became a lifetime friend of his.

He went on to lecture at Melbourne and Monash universities and ACER where former Emeritus professor of Architecture Brian Lewis at Melbourne University recalled "Wesley's hauntingly beautiful works", describing him as a "master craftsman with an unrivalled knowledge of the painting techniques of Rembrandt and Rubens".

Penberthy's dedication to his arts practice had seen a prolific body of work created with some 50,000 articles executed by his hand, some of his top works selling for up to $100,000.

A realist painter in the European tradition, Penberthy's paintings and murals can also be found in commercial and private collections in Australia, Europe and the USA.

Mr Penberthy died in Maclean Hospital on Thursday, August 24 aged 96 having made Yamba his home since 1990 where he continued teaching and painting until well into his 90s. He was a prolific supporter of his community, continuing to work with large outdoor murals at the popular Surfing the Coldstream festivals and more recently donating one of his works for an auction to help raise funds for the local musuem.

When The Daily Examiner caught up with Mr Penberthy a few years ago he was a spritely 92, still able to spend up to 15 hours with a brush in hand in deep concentration as he worked on his next 'masterpiece'.

Wes in his studio at Bonbeach Carrum, Vic.
Wes in his studio at Bonbeach Carrum, Vic. News Corp Australia

But this wasn't a rule he adhered to. At the time he said could also whip one up in just a few hours "inspired by everything and anything."

Despite some brash forecasts by Penberthy, "I've got a few decades in me yet", he gave it another good few years before putting his brushes and palattes away for good.

Penberthy derived "absolute joy" from painting and believed it was his arts practice that helped him retain his incredibly sharp mental health.

"What happens with old people is that they're not sufficiently focused on one thing, they're trying to do lots of things, but if you throw yourself into something (completely), it will all just keep happening."

Married twice, Wesley Penberthy leaves behind two sons and a daughter and a lasting impression in the Australian art world. Vale.


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