While still a teenager, Mackinlay exhibited oil paintings in local and national exhibitions in Australia. The final show in March 1914, to raise money for his trip to Europe, included The Smugglers, a historical action fantasy, but the highest price was placed on Among the Gums, his farewell to the Australian landscape.
After World War I, Mackinlay concentrated on figure studies. His acceptance at the New English Art Club in 1921, then dominated by stars from the Slade School such as Augustus John, was an impressive debut. His appearance the following year in both the anti-establishment London Group and the Royal Academy showed him keeping all options open.
The striking head-and-shoulders, El Andaluz, reproduced in colour in The Studio in 1926, capitalises on a vogue for Spanish subjects, despite the model, artist and professional tenor Frank Goulding, being an Englishman.
The Bath, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1927, is a monumental depiction of the grim reality of urban life. The models are Mackinlay’s own family; his earnings from his magazine work enabled him to move from Battersea to fashionable Fitzrovia, but his sympathies were still with the impoverished underclass. Similar resonances colour the massive open-air compositions, Tête-à-tête (1930) and Summer (1933), both also exhibited at the Royal Academy. Leisure activities such as tennis and swimming were becoming more accessible to the working population, through the provision of courts in public parks and a government-sponsored building programme for open-air lidos; in both his pictures, Mackinlay does not glamorise such popular recreations, but gives them an almost classic dignity and statuesque solemnity.
At the very moment when city dwellers were invading the countryside in large numbers, walking, cycling and, for the really well-off, motoring, Mackinlay’s 1936 exhibit, The Poacher, offers an idiosyncratic antidote. A character study of a man who could often be seen parading his booty through the streets of Bushey, the work is also a reminder to the urban elite of the harsher realities of country life.
The Mackinlay family joined the exodus, and during their summer holidays the artist took up landscape painting again, in both oils and watercolours, producing both careful views of the Cornish villages where they stayed, and more rapid sketches on the beach.
c1930, 59 x 49cm, oil on canvas