Minnie Pwerle was an Aboriginal artist who started painting when she was about the age of 80. Whenever anybody asked her why she had not started work earlier, “no one had asked her” was always her response. Her style of painting was impulsive and characterised by intrepid and lively colour carried out with great autonomy. Her pictures quickly became popular and adored works of modern Indigenous Australian art. However, there was pressure from those who are eager to get her work. Spry and sociable, she could exceed younger women, even in her eighties, and she kept making artworks until two days before she died.
Albert Namatjira was the most celebrated Indigenous Australian of his time because he was a founder and brain behind the modern Aboriginal Australian art. Albert Namatjira was prominent for his representation of the Australian bush. He grew up in a mission very far away from his family. During that time, he normally sneaked out from the precincts of the mission to survey the Australian bush. He was familiar with the western technique of painting. With this nurtured artistic aesthetics in him, he drew the panoramic beauty of the bush in his free time. Some of the works of this legend are now on display in a number of major galleries in Australia.
The Hermannsburg Mission was established by Louis Harms on 12 October 1849. It’s an establishment acknowledged by the state church. It was the last and longest-running Mission controlled by the Lutheran Church in Australia. The missionaries on the ground were educated on how to speak the Arrente language to make sure what they taught were understood. The Hermannsburg Mission celebrated its 140th anniversary in the 500th year of the Lutheran Church in 2017, and it carries on with the custom of doing open-air bush camps with aboriginal pastors. The Hermannsburg mission still manages a mission seminary in Hermannsburg, where young theologians are normally equipped service in one of the ELM partner churches till today.
David Bromley was born in England but he and his family emigrated to Australia and settled in Adelaide. He dropped out of school after suffering from phobias at age 14. His demons saw him spiral into a period of instability and had no direction in his life. However, he took up pottery and it developed into painting. Regular solo and group exhibitions throughout major cities in Australia followed. Bromley was a finalist for the coveted Archibald Prize for a few times. He is also known for painting surfboards and for his sculptures. Although, he had been criticised for his ‘pop-art commercialism’. Despite some critical disdain of his work, he can currently be seen in various prestigious galleries.
Aboriginal Art comprises of artworks created in diverse ways such as wood carving, sculpting, rock carving, painting on leaves, sand painting, and ceremonial clothing decoration. It is intimately associated with rituals or religious ceremonies. There was no documented language for the Aboriginal People of Australia. As a result, important cultural stories were conveyed from one generation to another with the aid of artworks, symbols and icons. Australian Aboriginal Art has been known as the most exhilarating modern art variety of the 20th Century, but it was not until the 1930s that the earliest paintings were carried out. Aboriginal Art has both anthropological and artistic merit, which made it very unique and significant.
English-born John Glover showed an early interest in wildlife and was to be found sketching birds and nature as a child. He also began painting in oil and watercolour while at the school. For the next nine years or so, Glover exhibited his paintings developed from sketching tours. Glover is renowned for his work on the Tasmanian landscape. Previous English painters had tended to paint Australian scenes as ‘English country gardens’ but he captured the light and bush as it was. However, his realistic views were not always translated to his work depicting the local populace. He is now well recognised in Australia with the John Glover Society being established in August 2001.
John Stuart Dowie is best known for his sculptures but is also widely known as an artist. At an early age, his aptitude for drawing became apparent when he attended the Rose Park Primary School. John began holding exhibitions in 1933 until 1969. He continued to attend night classes until he enlisted in the Australian Infantry Forces. When the war ended, Dowie returned to Adelaide, completing his studies. His war experiences persuaded him to travel to London and Italy where he studied art. It was at this point that he swapped sculpting for painting. Despite the honours, Dowie was always apprehensive about a new commission. Today, his work can be found throughout Australia, mostly in Adelaide.
Sir Wilhelm Ernst Hans Franz Heysen was born in Germany before his family emigrated to Australia. Hans showed early promise as an artist at school. Hans began painting and attended night art classes while he was with his father’s hardware merchant business. In 1894, he had already sold his first painting. A few years after, he joined the Easel Club and exhibited with them every year between 1895-1899. He would later receive several art prizes and sell a number of his works. Hans was an early pioneer of nature conservation, which was reflected in his works. Hans is regarded as the first non-Australian artist to paint the gum trees and other characteristics of rural life.
Australian Naïve and Performance artist Kevin ‘Pro’ Hart’s work was not always taken seriously. He received no formal art training, besides lessons by a local artist. At 19, he was employed at a mine, and his relief from the stress of long stretches underground was expressed in his painting. By 1958, Pro was earning enough from his art to concentrate on it full-time. Art collector and then director of the Adelaide Art Gallery, Hugh ‘Kym’ Bonython, discovered Pro and produced his first solo exhibition at the Bonython Gallery. From there, Pro would then go on and win several awards. He would become one of Australia’s most celebrated artists, thanks to his experimental and expressive works.
Australian artist Donald Stuart Leslie Friend was born from a family of a moneyed background. He received early education at prestigious institutions. After a scandalous liaison with a young Thai boy, Donald ran away from home. He returned to Sydney with his first series of drawings and studied under an Italian-born artist. Donald would later go on to travel to London and study under various renowned English and French artists. As a war artist in World War II, his encounters with Japanese fatalities would become subjects of his art. He also created many works of young male nudes. Despite Friend’s controversies with his sexuality, he was celebrated for his art and unstinting generosity. He was a friend indeed.
Australian Impressionist Frederick McCubbin was the third son of a family who emigrated to Australia. His father secured him a job as a lawyer’s clerk, but this came to a rapid end when Frederick’s father was shown the theatres he created out of paper to entertain himself. Frederick remained determined to become an artist and, on a whim, signed up for design and art classes. However, his ambitions were put on hold after his father’s death so he could assist with running the family business. Frederick managed to return to his studies. He would later sell a number of his works and hold a number of local solo exhibitions in his lifetime.
Only a few people can be easily identified with dark fantasy, surrealist, figurative or abstract art besides Peter Booth. The intense emotional power of often dark narratives and esoteric symbolism in his work were defined by the horrors of World War II. His work was also inspired by other artists and authors like Goya, Dostoyevsky, and even the Bible. The most peculiar inspiration of them all were the visions he reportedly had seen from a young age. The hybrid apocalyptic monsters reflected on his works were represented by these dreams. His works reveal the violent nature of mankind, but they also show that nature can heal itself.
Of the ten Lindsay siblings, Norman Lindsay was one of the five who shared a common interest in art. He and his brother Lionel were especially distinguished. Norman taught himself to draw after being forced to remain in the house due to a blood disorder. He was captivated by Solomon J. Solomon’s Ajax and Cassandra when he first saw it at the Ballarat Fine Arts Gallery. This would become the source of Norman’s interest in nudes in his art. As an avid reader, he was also influenced by Nietzsche’s philosophy. Despite the controversy surrounding some of his works, Norman’s art style became more sophisticated and he became the highest-earning Australian artist before WWI.
Lionel Lindsay was among the most influential artists in Australia. As a matter of fact, his whole family influenced Australian art and opinion for around 8 decades. Lionel first learned art lessons in watercolour. He then studied at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School in Melbourne. Despite having these formal art lessons, his forte was actually self-taught. This would include etching and engraving. He was a strong believer in drawing as an essential basis of fine art and its degradation with the advent of modern art. His recreation of day-to-day life in Sydney is what made his work most significant. His work is still being exhibited today in Australia and around the world.
“An artist who makes a deliberate break with previous styles.” – That’s how one would define Grace Cossington Smith. She was regarded as one of the few artists, if not the first, to initiate modernist art in Australia. Her story started when her parents sent her for drawing classes with Antonio Salvatore Dattilo-Rubbo. This is where Grace was introduced to Cezanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. From the first World War to the second, Grace had already painted numerous pieces. However, she was not widely known until she was in her 70’s. Her legacy lives on in the form of a biennial art award, run by a not-for-profit initiative in honour of her.
Aspiring to be a poet, Cecil John Brack hadn’t decided to become an artist until he came across a reproduction of Vincent van Gogh’s The Night Café in a local bookshop. His art studies were interrupted in World War II, but he returned to his studies after the war. During his time in the army, Brack developed his artistic skills by creating drawings and sketches of his comrades. His painting, The New House, typified the culture of the Menzies Era. This was regarded as a “golden age” for Australia. His final work was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales and was a finalist for the Archibald Prize.
If there was a Ned Kelly in art, it would definitely be Sidney Robert Nolan. His early career included designing sets and costumes for a production of the ballet Icarus. He continued painting even after being drafted for duty in the Citizen Military Forces in 1942. However, he never returned to his base after being on leave. He was declared a deserter. Know the full story here: