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Ian Fairweather

Ian Fairweather: A Life in Letters

Claire Roberts and John Thompson

When he died in 1974 after a long period of self-imposed austerity and improvisation on Bribie Island, Queensland, Ian Fairweather was at the apex of his fame. He had been called ‘our greatest painter’, and his works were keenly sought by galleries, collectors and artists.

Born in 1891 in Scotland, Fairweather had lived a peripatetic life, forever seeking the right place to settle. He was a prodigious and idiosyncratic letter writer—wryly documenting for friends and family members his travels, his struggles with his painting and Chinese translations, and the changing conditions on Bribie, as well as commenting on literature and world affairs.

Seven hundred of the painter’s letters are known to be in existence, and in their selection Claire Roberts and John Thompson have created the definitive volume of Fairweather’s correspondence: the closest thing to an autobiography of one of Australia’s most important and enduring artists.


ABC Radio National: the Art Show 
Australian Book Review 
Sydney Review of Books 

About the Authors
Claire Roberts

Claire Roberts is an associate professor in art history and an ARC Future Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and has published widely on Chinese art and visual culture, and curated numerous exhibitions.

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John Thompson

John Thompson is a historian who worked at the National Library of Australia for many years, and the author of The Patrician and the Bloke: Geoffrey Serle and the Making of Australian History.

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Text publication date:
1 October 2019
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Praise for Claire Roberts and John Thompson
andIan Fairweather

‘Fairweather’s heroic task as an artist, and “lonely abnormal individual”, was to keep the world—of place, weather, family, his dealers, and a few fellow artists who were friends—both within reach and at a manageable distance. Scrupulously edited, the letters in which he did this, with all their paranoid anxieties, and grumps and prejudices, are both comic and engagingly human. Meanwhile the works are always quietly behind him in the dark.’

‘A gorgeous book with plenty of photos and reproductions of Fairweather’s works…It helps paint a fuller picture of the man than we’ve ever had before.’

‘Fairweather’s letters…capture the intense interior life of a man devoted to his art.’

‘Letters from [Ian Fairweather’s] Bribie Island retreat, with their total concentration on the essential act of painting, are quirky, opinionated, dedicated. Ian Fairweather: A Life in Letters is superbly edited by Claire Roberts and John Thompson, and generously produced.’

‘Essential to any understanding of Fairweather is the work of the letters’ editors…A Life in Letters is a beautiful object.‘

‘A book that, like Fairweather’s paintings, generates thought and even walking so that you can taste it, put it down, go off and come back.’

‘A consummate editorial achievement.’

‘A handsome edition…Scrupulously edited…Engrossing and beautifully made.’

Other editions ofIan Fairweather
  • Ian Fairweather
    ISBN: 9781922253842
    1 October 2019
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