Rupert Charles Wulsten Bunny (1864-1947)

The painter Rupert C. W. Bunny is one of a number of interesting Australian artists who came to England to make their names, and instinctively fits as a 'Victorian'. He was born in St Kilda, and was schooled in Hobart. After abortive studies in civil engineering and architecture, at the beginning of the 1880s he settled on art school in Melbourne, taking design under Oswald R Campbell, and painting under Folingsby, where his fellow students included Longstaff and the sculptor Bertram Mackennal (both of whom settled in England).

Bunny came to England in 1884, and spent 18 months at Calderon's Art School in London. Among the students he met there were Henry Tuke and T. C. Gotch, who persuaded him to go to Paris to the atelier of Jean Paul Laurens. Thereafter, although he sent pictures to the Royal Academy from 1892, he settled in France, marrying a French girl in 1902, and achieving a measure of official recognition there. He made a return visit to Australia in 1911, and in the 1920s made further and longer visits, exhibiting in Melbourne and Sydney. In 1933, when his French wife died, he finally returned permanently to Australia, settling in South Yarra, Melbourne. Oddly, despite his strong reputation in Europe, during his life he seems to have been somewhat neglected by the art establishment in Australia, though just before his death his reputation increased and most of his works have ended up in Australian art galleries.

Bunny's work was influenced by his French master, Laurens, but also by Puvis de Chavannes and by the Pre-Raphaelite Ford Madox Brown. His favorite subject was girls, typically in threes, sleeping, sunning themselves, in modern society, or in mythological and biblical settings. Some of his paintings are excellently symbolist, as in his striking Annunciation, Salome, The Forerunners and Descending Angels.

As noted, most of his paintings in public collections are in Australia, although they occasionally appear in exhibitions in English galleries. As well, he produced some illustrative work for English magazines, nicely composed if rather wishy washy, and these can be found without difficulty.

Illustration to a poem by Bunny

Australian art and Britain // Other artists

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