GEORGE WHINNEN: Immortalising the Flowers Blooming

View of Victor Harbour and Granite Island, George Whinnen - photo by Australian Art Sales Digest

George Whinnen was an Australian Impressionist & Modern painter. He has left us with a collection of particularly fine still life studies of flowers, where he let the flowers show themselves in all their natural grace and beauty. He painted an almost equal number of seascapes and landscapes as well as producing fine prints and etchings.

Early Life

Roses and Fuchsias, George Whinnen – photo by The McCorry Collection Everything Art

George Whinnen was born in Gawler, South Australia, son to John and Emily Whinnen.

He went to the local primary school and on leaving he worked for A. C. Follett & Co., drapers in Gawler.

His uncle, who was himself a grocer in Gawler, noticed that he was interested in painting – and gave him a painting set.

The family relocated to Willaston and later to Broken Hill. Here, George worked for Don Tailors but also took night classes in painting at the technical school. He started etching – producing such fine studies such as that depicting St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral. He won several prizes for his art at exhibitions but was unable to devote himself full-time to art at this time. He continues his art education at the East Sydney Technical School.

In addition to this, he excelled at rifle shooting. He won the Galway cup with a score of 72 (ten shots and two sighters) and when he left Broken Hill in 1924, a trophy for rifle marksmanship was named in his honour.

George starts his family

George married Gladys Hill in 1919. She died three years after he did in 1953. They had three children: Diana in 1920, who sadly died nine years later, Jeanette in 1922 and Anne in 1931.

He becomes a full-time artist

South Coast from the Bluff, Victor Harbour – photo by Leonard Joel | Australian Art Sales Digest

He moved to Adelaide where he studied under Fred Britton and attended life classes at the Adelaide School of Art. After a few years, he was able to become a full-time artist.

In 1929 ( the year of his daughter’s death) and again in 1932, he won the prestigious Melrose Prize for portraiture, in addition to various prizes for seascapes and landscapes.

Exhibitions in the Royal South Australian Society of Arts

He exhibited in an Exhibition of Etchings and Aquatints in 1936 in the Royal South Australian Society Of Arts Gallery and he showed prints in Graven Images in the Promised Land: A History of Printmaking in South Australia, 1836-1981.

Autumn at Uraidla, 1934 – photo by State Library of South Australia

In 1940, he caused a sensation in the art world when he removed one of his artworks, a still life, from an exhibition run by the Royal South Australian Society of Arts (R.S.A.S.A). He did this because he felt that the judges were unqualified to judge oil paintings as they were water-colourists. He left an unsightly gap in the display as well as some embarrassment.

Interestingly, he became the president of the (R.S.A.S.A). in 1940 until his death ten years later.

A busy professional life

He seems to have been in demand. Appointed as a teacher of drawing and painting by the Education department in 1940 and commissioned by the Museum to paint a diorama for an important display of wildlife in central Australia. In Adelaide, he had a one-man show in the Society of Arts Gallery. He already had many pictures in the Adelaide Art Gallery. His work is described as “consistent, strong and direct, while his draftsmanship is good and his colour rich, and generally free from any effect of “tightness.”

His artworks

Hay Stooks, Glen Osmond by George Whinnen – photo by Australian Art Sales Digest

He painted many still life pictures of flowers in vases, and some of them have beautiful colour schemes. He had a special flair for showing zinnias in rich detail. He also painted landscapes and portraits and he also produced etchings with fine lines, prints and graphics. Of his landscapes, he painted The Quarry, Glen Osmond and Observation Tower. which is interesting as few locals are aware of these landmarks, although near to the city centre.

The prices of his paintings vary from 960 ASD for works on paper to 8,700 ASD for his oil paintings with an average price tag of 2048 ASD and the prints sell for around 336 ASD (These calculations refer to the last three years).

The legacy of George Whinnen

A fine collection of paintings and etchings. His flower paintings allow us to enjoy the natural beauty of the flowers with his interpretations of colour enhancing the effects. His portraits won prizes and his landscapes are also of interest.