DORA CHAPMAN: Artist, Teacher and Student

Constructive Forms mixed media on paper unsigned, Dora Chapman - photo by | Lot 12

Dora Cecil Chapman, (1911 – 1995)

Also known as Dora Cant

Dora Chapman was an artist and teacher. She lived in South Australia, New South Wales and, with her husband James Cant for a few years in England where they had the opportunities of exploring the art of Europe. Yet, she kept her own individual and strong style. She painted, she made pottery and she took a special delight in silk-screen printing. As an outstanding pupil, she exhibited her art, won prizes and tried to change society through her realistic and honest recording of life through her art.

Early life

Self Portrait, 1938, Dora Chapman – photo by Australian Art Auction Records

Dora was born in March 2011 in Mount Barker, South Australia. When she was 25 years old, she won a scholarship to the Adelaide School of Arts, where she studied under Dorrit Black, Leslie Wilkie, Marie Tuck and others. Here, she was able to sketch life drawings in the United Arts Club.

While she was still a student, she exhibited with the Royal South Australian Society of Arts (RSASA) and she was elected to be an associate member in 1935. In 1941, she won the RSASA Portrait Prize.

Located in the Art Gallery of South Australia is a self-portrait, painted in oil on canvass. The painting is interesting as it suggests an outdoor kind of person with coat, scarf and a broad-brimmed felt hat which we can see in later portraits. It looks like a very realistic and honest depiction of herself.

Indeed, Chapman was concerned about influencing society through realistic art.

Then in 1942, Dora Chapman joined the army. She taught there until 1945, as well as establishing a Fine Art Print Library. She also organised an art exhibition to show off work by army people.

After the war

Sydney City at Night, 1947, Dora Chapman – photo by Australian Art Auction Records

James Cant has also been working for the army in the camouflage section. When the war was over, he and Dora co-founded the Studio of Realist Art (SORA) in Sydney. Dora became its secretary and established a library as well as giving drawing lessons and exhibiting her works in SORA exhibitions.

In 1946, Dora Chapman became Dora Cant and the couple travelled to London in 1950. They stayed in Europe for five years, taking in Italy and France as well as England.

After that, they returned to Sydney for a year and then moved down to Adelaide. She won the coveted Melrose Prize for portraiture in 1961, and also worked as an art critic for the local paper. Dora gave lectures at the SA School of Art until and beyond her official retirement in 1969.

Retirement and Serigraphy

After she retired, she took to serigraphy.

The Girl with a Long Nose II, 1970, Dora Chapman – photo by National Gallery of Australia

Serigraphy is also known as screen printing, silk screening or serigraph printing. The ink is forced through a fine screen onto the underlying paper. Originally, the screens were made of silk but silk has been largely replaced by synthetic materials like polyester or nylon.

Using this process, she produced The Girl With A Long Nose in 1970 and Katinka three years later. The shapes seemed to have fascinated her and you can see so many colour variations of these designs…

The Girl With Llong Nose was presented for the exhibition of South Australian Centenary of Women’s Suffrage in 1994.

Dora Chapman died in Adelaide in 1995 at the age of 84.

Sales of her work

Abstract, Dora Chapman – photo by | Lot 2

There was an abstract recently sold with an estimated price of AUD1,200 – AUD1,800 and a more complicated one for an estimated AUD2,000 – AUD4,000 described as “Constructive Forms mixed media on paper unsigned 22 x 34cm”.

A folio of sketches and drawings, including portraits, figurative, abstracts and landscapes, recently sold for AUD3,200 – a little less than the estimated value, but still a good price.


You can find examples of Dora Chapman’s work in major art galleries and on-line throughout southern Australia, in places such as Perth, Tasmania, Canberra and Adelaide.

She showed great promise as a student and has left us with some honest and varied works of art – from some delightful sketches to multimedia abstracts, and her very realistic self-portraits. Her behind the scenes work for social change was important to her – and she made some very fine screen prints, especially after her rather busy “retirement”.

Indeed, her versatility is one of the characteristics of her art – both in the medium she used – silkscreen prints, oil painting, sketches and pottery, and in the subject matter – portraits being one of her strengths, but also natural subjects of the great outdoors as well as the abstracts.