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Comstockery Mockery



DECLARING that their subject matter is prurient, the Customs Department has seized 50 prints of a painting by the Italian artist, Amedeo Modigliani. They will be destroyed at the end of the month unless Gino Nibbi, to whom they are consigned, appeals against their seizure. The original by Modigliani is called “Lying: Nude.” A bronze-skinned girl with black hair and heavily shadowed eyes is shown reclining with her hands behind her head. It was explained that the prints had been seized with the approval of the Collector of Customs, as the Department felt that the reproduction was definitely prurient and that it would have a strong appeal for other than the genuine art-collector. The department does not object to the fact that the figure Is a nude, but to the type of nude and to the cheap form of the print.


This view is strongly contested by Mr. Adrian Lawler, the artist.

“When in Italy recently, Signor Nibbi was able to persuade a wealthy connoisseur to send him a magnificent canvas by Modigliani (it had cost him £5000) for the purpose of personally supervising the manufacture of a colored reproduction for importation into Australia,”

Mr. Lawler said to-day.

“The collaboration of a printer as alive to the color values of the work and as scrupulously sensitive to the effect of its nuances as was Nibbi himself, resulted In a print which Is authentic to a degree not hitherto seen in any color-prints of Modigllani’s work in Australia. The picture and, of course, its printed simulacrum, is entirely innocent of the least breath of pruriency. But the subject happens to represent, as in all Modigliani’s best works, that of a nude female figure. Without further ado, the bumble-foots of our local Customs House have therefore, after brief and scandalised inspection of the print, and with no reference either to Modigliani as artist or to the Australian public as spectator, exercised once more their ridiculous , powers of censorship and condemned the publication to destruction.”

Signor Nibbi is a Melbourne art-dealer.

Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Wednesday 10 November 1937, page 3

Signor Gino Nibbi, the Melbourne art dealer, to whom the prints of a nude by the Italian painter, Modigliani, were consigned, has lodged an appeal to the Collector-General of Customs in Canberra against the seizure of the prints on the ground that they were prurient. Signor Nibbi said today that the appeal would be considered by the Censorship Board within a week or so. Similar paintings by Modigliani had been hung in the world’s leading galleries, he said.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), Friday 12 November 1937, page 10

Artists Protest Against Seizing Of Nude Prints


SYDNEY artists and art dealers protested yesterday against the action of the Customs Department, Melbourne, in seizing 50 prints of a painting by the Italian artist, Amedeo Modigliani.

Modigliani did beautiful work,

Miss Helen Stewart, who has an art studio in the city, said yesterday. I can see no possible reason why the prints should have been banned. “

I think we should consider ourselves very lucky to get reproductions of the works of great painters.

Mr. Max Meldrum, Melbourne artist, at present in Sydney, said it was very dangerous for Customs officers to be given the right to exclude pictures or books on moral grounds.

To define what is pornographic and what is pure is a most difficult task, he declared.

Long-Necked Women

Only absolutely unprejudiced people can do it. Rembrandt has been called indecent because of some of the positions of his figures, but the position of a man or a woman on a surgeon’s table is equally indecent at times. It all depends on how you look at things.

Mr. Will Ashton, Director of the Art Gallery, said that Modigliani was a modern, the merit of whose works was a subject for controversy. His paintings sometimes appeared a little distorted, and his women invariably had long necks. His work was characterised chiefly by an appearance of pathetic mawkishness, but his art was charming.

No Copy In Sydney

The development of a delicate artistic talent had been prevented by over reliance on sensuality. He excelled in depicting ungainly attitudes or arbitrarily-posed nudes, more suggestive than sensual. After his death, his most important pictures were hung in many of the famous galleries of Europe.

So far as is known, there is no copy of the banned work in Sydney, said Mr. Ashton. Many reproductions of Modigliani’s other works appear in books on art at the Public Library in Bent Street.

Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), Friday 12 November 1937, page 2

Shocking; Bad Art, Says Censor MELBOURNE

I think every decent citizen will be pleased at the lead given by Prince George. There are a number of unpleasant subjects which must be studied, but the study should be conducted in a dispassionate way proper to medical science. This modern vogue of dipping into pathology is not only unpleasant, but shocking, bad art. The whole aim of art, in its widest sense, is to create beauty through the limitations of some particular medium, and what beauty is to be found in the diseased state I fail to see. I suppose the sex licence is a reaction against the ‘over-prudery‘ of Victorian times, but trust it will soon defeat itself. I have heard French critics condemning Macbeth because it had no love story. I believe firmly that this vogue will burn itself out, and that we shall go back to literature that is open air and bracing and not hot-house and degenerate. I trust that when our thoughts are turning back to Walter Scott this year, the centenary of his death – we will think how clean and manly his works are.

Prof. W. A. Osborne, Victorian film censor

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), Friday 18 March 1932, page 1

Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), Friday 31 July 1936, page 6

Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), Saturday 16 January 1937, page 11

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