A special Australian collection goes to auction

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 3rd May, 2021

Joseph Greenberg doesn’t fit the mould of the everyday collector.

Born in 1923 in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond after his family escaped the anti-Semitism of eastern Europe, Greenberg studied graphic design under prominent established Australian artist Sir William Dargie and alongside fellow student and lifelong friend Ray Crooke – before in 1942 enlisting in the Australian Army and seeing service during World War II against the Japanese in New Guinea and New Britain.

Despite spending most of his time in constant action, he was already finding his niche as a cartoonist in army publications and after the war joined the Herald & Weekly Times Group and later the left-wing Guardian newspaper where his political cartoons flourished.

With other like-minded souls, Greenberg established a designer’s group called the Society of the Ambulant Cheese that later became the Art Director’s Society.

As an artist, he exhibited in the 1952 Dunlop Third Annual Australian Art Contest alongside such notaries as John Loxton, Murray Griffin, Arthur Boyd, Louis Kahan, Jock Frater and John Passmore.

However, it wasn’t until Greenberg left Australia in 1957 for New York, London and Norway for a 13-year stint as a creative director for several advertising agencies that he began to collect Orthodox and Catholic icons and statuary.

These form an integral part of Leski Auctions forthcoming Melbourne sale from 11am Sunday May 9 at 727-729 High Street, Armadale.

Joe Greenberg died 14 years ago but his wife Veronica (Roni) only recently and the family then invited Leski Auctions to their Mount Martha home to help dispose of the contents.

His fascination with religious icons extended to cult figures within African and Melanesian communities, along with Hindu paintings and manuscripts.  

While the first 80 lots in the auction to Greenberg’s Christian art and icons, there also are some great examples of seaweed “art” (lots 266 and 268) and flotsam-and-jetsam that later became sculptures in their garden (lots 493 and 494) respectively entitled Seaside Hunting Figure and Seaside Swashbuckling Figure.

Artistic reflections on his travels (lots 432-536) are another highlight along with a day-to-day visual diary of a north Queensland visit (lot 535) and a word and pen picture autobiography (lot 534).

Of particular note is Parisian Street Scene (lot 434) and the old Victorian Football League  set of five panels (lot 439).

The uniqueness of this collection is further enhanced by the fact that almost none of the art has been offered for sale at public auction.

An important figure in the development of modern Australia’s graphic design industry, Greenberg will long be remembered through his painting collection at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

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