Two Japanese landscape paintings covered in gold leaf sit in the apartment of John Cary, 62, of Melbourne. He passes a brittle note written by his grandmother to his father explaining the origin of the paintings, which were acquired by Cary’s great uncle, who perished in World War II.
The letter reads: My brother Eric sent these to my mother on one of his trips around the world. I was always going to get them framed. He never did and I thought you’d like them. I didn’t know exactly where he got these, as he had been to Hong Kong and Japan, and a lot of other places. I think they are very pretty.
In contrast to the solemn family heirloom, Cary is also selling rare prints of erotic etchings by the famous modernist Australian artist Norman Lindsay.
“Eric was a merchant seamen, and he did a lot of trips around Asia-Pacific. He must have bought these paintings sometime in the 1930s. Not sure where exactly, but they are definitely Japanese. On February 19, 1942, he was working as a radio officer on an ammunition ship called the Neptuna in Darwin when the port was attacked by the Japanese.
The Neptuna took a direct hit, and he was killed. It’s quite ironic; he loved the Orient, bought these Japanese paintings, and got blown up by the Japanese.
Eventually my parents framed them and hung them in their house, and now I have them. I loved them, but I have to sell them. They are $275 each, or $500 for the pair.
I also have two etchings by Norman Lindsay, called The Venus in Arcady and This Shrine. He was a quite famous, or infamous, painter, etcher, author and cartoonist. He was banned in the 1930s. Quite a talented guy. They’re rare facsimile prints of the original etchings. There was a lady who bought all the original etchings, and she supposedly made 550 copies of each. They’ve got a raised seal on them to show they are real. I can’t get a price for [This Shrine] but the other one is going for AD$1,600 in Australia unframed. It’s very rare because the lot was sent to America and got burnt at a fire in a warehouse. I’m trying to sell that one for $1,500, the other one I’m not sure of. I might try to sell it in the Australian market.
I bought them both in around 1976. I was walking home from the station one night when I was in Melbourne, and I walked past an antique shop and saw this Norman Lindsay etching. Just fell in love with it. I got the first one, and then I bought the second one to keep it company. They’re quite simple, but the penmanship is exquisite. I paid about $75 for them at the time.
I don’t have the space to hang all the paintings, and I need money. My business is a bit slow at the minute, but I don’t want to go home.”
To buy the paintings or etchings, call John Cary at 077996179.