MAG&M Collection Stories:

Taking you back to the 1940s through a contemporary lens

In Australia, we instinctively view the beach as a ‘democratic’ space open to all and many Australians are keen to protect our beaches as public space. But from colonisation to the Cronulla riots, Australian beach history includes stories of violence and contest.  If the beach is indicative of our national identity, is it therefore an inherently politicised and diverse space?

Anne Zahalka explores this question in her Playground of the Pacific photographic series, addressing the ways in which the democratic nature of the beach can both unify and highlight cultural and social differences.

Inspired by MAG&M’s 1940s work Figures on Manly Beach by Nancy Kilgour, Zahalka photographically recreated it in 2015 and included objects from MAG&M’s beach culture collection.

“When I saw Nancy Kilgour’s painting from the ‘40s tucked away in the art store, I felt an immediate response to it…in this painting there was something very curious; the figures arranged in the pattern of the figures in Georges Seurat’s famous painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte”, but instead set on a recognizable Manly Beach… I’m intrigued that Kilgour has reflected on Seurat’s early painting from 1884 as an almost postmodernist gesture, and I was motivated to mirror the subject matter. …”.  Anne Zahalka, 2015

The production of the work involved the inclusion of Kilgour’s painted background, carefully selected visual, social, political and historical references with objects from MAG&M’s Beach Culture collection, life models and even a MAG&M member of staff. The final work is a unique example of one artist’s involvement with a collection and site.


  1. Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954), Untitled (figured on Manly Beach), c.1943, oil on canvas, 76 x 117cm. Purchased through the Lady Askin Bequest 1986
  2. Chuck Bradley (b.1959), Orange towel (Nostalgica series), 2013, photograph of MAG&M museum objects collection
  3. Anne Zahalka (b.1957), Figures on Manly Beach April 25 (after Nancy Kilgour), 2015, unique photo media print, 115 x 177.5cm. Donated by MAG&M Society 2015 (A1322)
  4. Female one piece swimming costume, ‘Roslyn’ brand, 1940s, wool. Gift of Linda Slutskin 1983 (M0516)
  5. Male trunks with skirt front, Jantzen brand, 1940s, wool. Gift of Jenny Kee 1988 (MO134)
  6. Anne Zahalka with MSLSC member Ray Moran, 2015