Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 15, 2018

Landscape in Perspective, Jill Kempson’s Oeuvre (2010), by Patrick Le Chanu, translated by Karen Le Chanu

One of the pleasures of retirement is being able to join the University of the Third Age, known everywhere as U3A.  I belong to the Glen Eira branch, where I have learned—at last! to do cryptic crosswords, and I’ve also done a bit of teaching myself (Indonesian for Beginners, and a couple of fill-in ESL lessons for adult learners).  But my favourite thing to do with U3A is being part of the group that visits Melbourne galleries to see current exhibitions. The group is coordinated by Lee Hirsh who is herself an artist (see here) and we have seen some wonderful art this year…

Our most recent excursion was to the Embroiderers Guild Art Deco exhibition where I was in heaven admiring the amazing needlework of these talented artists.  My photos aren’t great because they were just taken with my phone, but you should be able to see why it was that most of these gorgeous creations had already been sold.

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However, it was the exhibition before that which really tested my credit card resolve. Jill Kempson is an internationally recognised artist who creates the most exquisite landscapes, and as part of the exhibition featuring her work at the Eastgate Gallery in Burwood Rd Hawthorn our U3A group received a copy of the book featuring her work. Landscape in Perspective, Jill Kempson’s Oeuvre is written by the French art critic and author Patrick Le Chanu and translated by his wife Karen Le Chanu.  The significance of Kempson’s work being featured in this way is that Le Chanu is a specialist in old masters art.

Le Chanu begins by noting that landscape painting has mostly been eclipsed by abstraction and conceptualism but that Jill Kempson transcends the succession of art styles and art genres.  He attributes this to Jill’s continuation of the artistic tradition of the Grand Tour.  Through her travels and her study of the old masters and familiarising herself with their techniques, she has developed her own vision and style:

I am delighted to observe this rebirth and flourishing of an art genre that I have long contemplated.  It is more than a simple similarity of technique or style to early European painting: Jill’s work proves her to be a true heir to this noble legacy. (p.4)

Usefully for people like me who don’t know much about how art is made, Le Chanu goes on to explain the techniques used in the paintings which feature in the book.

The type of support (for example, canvas, marine ply or paper), greatly affects the final aspect of the painting.  The choice of pigments and the method of their application is also critical.  The artist can conceal the brushstroke, resulting in a smooth surface, or, on the contrary make the work of the brush apparent with a layered effect or impasto.  These choices have deep roots in, and also express, cultural history.  For example, early Netherlandish masters such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, began to paint with deliberately visible brushstrokes during the Renaissance, as the liberation of individual expression developed. (p.5)

The second essential element involves decisions about format, viewpoint and how to delineate the boundaries that separate the spectator’s world from the world in the painting:

In landscapes, the choice of viewpoint determines the height of the horizon, and thus the relative proportions of earth and sky. […] The first objects placed at the threshold of a painting fulfil the crucial roles of both springboard into the scene, and the reference point from which we view it. (p.5)

He then discusses the choices Kempson made in a beautiful painting called Whispering Reeds: you can see it (at the moment) on Kempson’s home page) but I’d be very surprised if someone hasn’t bought this work because it’s my favourite of her paintings in the whole book. [Update, the next day: I’ve had an email from Jill to let me know that Whispering Reeds was sold at her London exhibition at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery]. There are 42 full colour plates (mostly about 15cm square) covering work from 1992 onwards, but also including works by old masters for reference, including Johannes Vermeer, Jacob Vrel, Matthys Cock, Pieter Paul Rubens, Claude Gellée, (known as Le Lorrain) , Cornelis van Dalem, and Jacob van Ruisdael Isaakszoon.

The book then traces Kempson’s development as a painter of note, through the elements that feature in her work: Earth, Sky (air), Water and Light (fire).  In the section on Earth it covers the work that derived from her travels in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley and how they contrast with civilised disorder of the works done in Spain, Italy, Portugal and the South of France. Water—as a subject or as a reflecting surface, says Le Chanu, is present in nearly all her paintings, everything from man-made ponds of a French park to the rocky coasts of the Indian Ocean.  When you see Kempson’s work discussed here as evoking the work of Gellée and Monet, it is a reminder that the best of Australian artists can hold their own on the international stage. Le Chanu stresses that she is not reproducing a style from the past, but making it her own, and not just in the Australian landscapes, spectacular as they are.

In discussing the ‘outlook’ of the artist, Le Chanu reminds us that in the 16th century representing the human form was the highest achievement for every painter and ‘history painting (scenes from religion, mythology or historical events) was considered the most noble. Now, however, ‘contemporary art’ dominates which presents a new challenge for painting in general, and landscape painting in particular. However, Le Chanu makes it clear that Kempson has transcended this challenge.

It’s a lovely book and a wonderful addition to my library of art books.

Author: Patrick Le Chanu
Title: Landscape in Perspective, Jill Kempson’s Oeuvre
Translated by Karen Le Chanu
Publisher: Jill Kempson, 2010
ISBN: 9780646532097
Source: courtesy of Jill Kempson and Eastgate Galleries

Contact Jill Kempson at if you would like to buy a copy of Landscape in Perspective $15+postage.


  1. I go to too few galleries even when I do have the time, so I shouldn’t say I envy you, though I do. Do you ever discuss where painting is meant to go next? After modernism, and then post modern installations there doesn’t seem to be anywhere left. Perhaps you’ve discovered a hint. Storytelling never went out of vogue, and perhaps portraits and landscapes shouldn’t have either.


    • To be honest, I had thought that portraits and landscapes (which I really like) were analogous to ‘popular fiction’ where you don’t have to make much effort to understand it while contemporary art was like the more adventurous literary fiction, challenging and not always easy to understand..
      But this little book has shown me that there’s more to it than that. It’s like my discovery of the Queen of Crochet, Mary Card There’s more to the story than the surface details that are immediately obvious.

      Liked by 1 person

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