The impact women artists have made on the development and growth of Australian art cannot be understated. From the late 19th century, there was a steady progression of adventurous, brash young women responsible in overcoming the male-dominated, cliché traditional oeuvre and shaping a new Modern style, influenced by important developments in European Art. One could argue that between the pre-war years until the end of World War II, the most important and pioneering Australian painters were predominantly women. During this time, women were financially independent, able and encouraged to make a living as working artists, and many studied abroad in Europe. The results were crucial in revolutionizing the local industry and challenging the conventional and conservative art-buying public. Using works available from our Belle Epoque gallery collection, I will track the evolution of Australian art through a series of pioneering women artists from traditional landscape and naturalist studies, through to the advent and success of Modernism.
Emma Minnie Boyd was the matriarch of the internationally revered Boyd Dynasty, the most important and influential family of Australian artists. From an early age, the gifted teenager studied at the National Gallery Of Victoria School under famous Swiss artist, Louis Buvelot, with a focus on traditional Australian landscape and naturalist painting. A skilled watercolourist, she began exhibiting in 1874 at the Victorian Society Of Artists and as her reputation grew, she was invited to exhibit at the Centennial International Exhibition in 1888 in Melbourne and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Inspired by British Victorian artists, she began to paint intricate figurative oils of genre scenes rooted in social realism, illustrating complex social hierarchies of the period. Her new works are amongst the earliest examples associated with the Heidelberg School, and established Boyd as one of the most prolific, pioneering and consistent woman artists of her generation.
Emma Minnie Boyd (1858-1936) - "Wildflowers" (c.1890)
Margaret Lilian Flockton was an English-born botanical painter. Having trained in lithography in London, she immigrated to Sydney, working as a commercial artist. Inspired by her new surroundings, she turned her focus to still lifes and naturalist studies of classic Australian flora and fauna. Her work was shown at the Royal Society from 1894-1901 and was regarded as the “most accomplished botanical artist in New South Wales”. As a result she was employed by the Royal Botanical Gardens to illustrate the entire catalogue of Australian flora for posterity. At that time, she was the only female lithographer in Australia, so she readily produced necessary lithographs & book publications herself to spread her historically significant work to the widest possible audience. Her work is also represented at the Art Gallery Of NSW. So important was her influence, three species of flora were named after her: Eucalyptus flocktoniae, Acacia flocktoniae and the Dorrigo Daisy-bush Olearia flocktoniae.
Margaret L. Flockton (1861-1953) - "Lobster & Sardines" (c.1890)
Isabel McWhannell was an important Australian painter, and instrumental in the shift from the traditional depiction of the Australian landscape, to a more idealised, romanticised vision, inspired by the Art Nouveau movement. She studied at the Sydney Art School under Julian Ashton and Sydney Long, both of whom greatly influenced her style. She began to exhibit works in 1902 amongst contemporary women artists Ethel Stephens, Florence Rodway, Gladys Owen and Thea Proctor at the Artists Society Of NSW, Society Of Artists, Society Of Women Painters, & the Royal Arts Society Galleries, among others. Largely forgotten by mainstream sources due to her tragic death in 1919 at age 36, her contribution to representing Australia for it’s magical, even surreal qualities should not be underestimated. Her works appear in the Australian National Gallery, Geelong Art Gallery, Cruther’s Collection, University of Western Australia and Howard Hinton Art Collection, Armidale.
Isabel McWhannell (1883-1919) - "Cattle Grazing" (1907)
The development of this Australian mythology in art and literature in the early 20th century was based upon it’s unique flora and fauna, inspiring a new generation of creative storytellers. Following the success of artist Norman Lindsay’s illustrated masterpiece, “The Magic Pudding” (1918), an influx of new female illustrators took to producing their own children’s books, including Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and May Gibbs. Pixie O’Harris (MBE) was a Welsh-born Australian artist, newspaper, magazine and book illustrator, author, broadcaster, caricaturist and cartoonist, designer of book plates, and children's hospital ward fairy-style mural painter. From the 1920s, she produced a series of self-illustrated children’s books with Australian iconography and folklore infused with magical elements, such as fairies, pixies and elves. Her work was so popular and commercially successful that in 1953 she was awarded the Queen's Coronation Medal. In 1976 she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and was awarded the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal.
Pixie O'Harris (MBE) (1903-1991) - "Nymph Crying Into Fountain" (c.1920)
In the early 1920s, developments in woodblock and linocut printing techniques in Europe (particularly at the Grosvenor School in London) influenced a group of British-born and Aussie expats with a new, adventurous modern style that they introduced to Australia. These artists included Dorrit Black, Ethel Spowers, Margaret Preston and Eveline Syme. Their woodblock & linocut prints share geometrical, repetitive, and cubist themes that are now synonymous with Australian art of the 1920s & 1930s. Interestingly, these artists were based predominantly in Adelaide & Melbourne, and as such, the most important prints depict street scenes, landscapes, figurative studies and floral themes typical of these areas. Eveline Winifred Syme was an iconic British-born Australian artist who studied art at the Grosvenor School in London, and also trained in Paris and Melbourne. She held her first solo show in Melbourne in 1925, and another in 1928, showing works in various media, many of them watercolor landscape studies, though she also painted in oils and drew in pencil, and produced linocut prints influenced my Cyril Power and Andre Lhote. Her works are important historical records of early Modernism in Australia in the 1920s, and are commonplace in National Gallery collections.
Eveline W. Syme (1888-1961) - "Ravine" (c.1920)
Another female artist who studied Modernism in Europe was Constance Tempe Manning. Originally from Bowral, she studied in Sydney, before attending the Academie Julian in Paris in the early 1910s. In the early stages of her career she focused on modern portraits and figure studies like contemporaries Thea Proctor, Adelaide Perry & Nora Heysen, which shared a bright palette (incorporating the colour studies of Roy De Maistre & Roland Wakelin) and elegant form inspired by the French Impressionists. She also attempted to encapsulate an accurate interpretation of contemporary social and lifestyle conditions in Australia at the time. She began exhibiting with the Royal Art Society in 1916 and later with the Society of Artists. From 1930 to 1953 she was a regular contributor to the Archibald Prize exhibitions, and her works are represented in the Art Gallery of NSW, and several other State Galleries.
Constance Tempe Manning (1896-1960) - "The Mounting Inclosure" (1952)
The arrival of Modernism heralded the arrival of one of Australia’s most important and influential female artists. Having also studied painting in Europe, Grace Cossington Smith (AO OBE) was an important early exponent of modernism in Australia, her work forming part of the first significant wave of Australian responses to European post- impressionism. A brilliant colourist, she drew her subject matter from the familiar surroundings of her home and her experience of Sydney city life, which she transformed into vibrant images of light-infused colour. Like her contemporaries Margaret Preston, Clarice Beckett, Ethel Carrick & Grace Crowley, her interiors, floral studies and landscapes are a significant historical ingredient to the development of Australian art in the early 20th century. Her iconic paintings of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, “The Curve Of The Bridge” (1928) and ‘The Bridge In Curve” (1930), are national treasures. In 1973 she was awarded an Order of the British Empire and a major retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. Her work is incredibly rare and sought after.
Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984) - "Red Apples" (c.1930)
Whilst Modernist painters like Grace Cossington Smith and Margaret Preston flourished during the post-Depression era of the 1930s and early 1940s, popularity for the style waned following World War II. A new wave of abstract art from Europe and America revealed a new direction for contemporary artists. Furthermore the new recognition of male-driven figurative art in Australia from Russell Drysdale, Arthur Boyd & Sidney Nolan, saw the industry move away from ‘modern’ art. However, there was one more significant female artist to emerge from the ashes of Modernism. Margaret Hannah Olley studied painting in Brisbane, then at East Sydney Technical College in the early 1940s. After graduating, she immediately made an impression nationally for her still life and interior paintings. She held her first solo exhibition in 1948 at Macquarie Galleries from which the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery Of NSW both purchased works. She travelled extensively and lived abroad in Paris, before returning to Australia to establish herself as one of Australia’s greatest and most influential still life and interior painters. She was also a subject of two Archibald Prize winning paintings by William Dobell (1948) and Ben Quilty (2011). She continued to paint and exhibit nationally & internationally until her death in 2011.
Margaret Olley (1923-2011) - "Plums & Prawns" (1948)
The early 20th century was a period of unprecedented creativity and innovation in Australian art. At Belle Epoque Antiques, we have been very lucky to stock some important artworks produced by these pioneering female artists at the height of their popularity. The success and growth of the industry from 1900 to 1950 was propelled by these select few, driven young women artists; a renaissance in Australian art unequalled until the rise of female Aboriginal artists in the 1980s... but I will save that for another article. L