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Australian painters and sculptors looked towards Britain and, to a lesser extent, France for inspiration and approval. Several leading artists based themselves in these art centres, where they were part of a vibrant expatriate community. Most kept close ties to the Australian art world, mounting exhibitions in their home cities, returning for visits and seeking official Australian Government commissions.
There were many avenues to exhibit works of art in Australia. It was the heyday of art, and arts and crafts, societies in Australia, whose annual exhibitions provided opportunities to show work at a time when there were few commercial galleries. These salons were also eagerly anticipated social events.
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Advertising poster, ‘The Kodak Girl’ published in Australasian Photographic Review, 23 January 1911. State Library of Victoria.
Photography in 1913 was widely used in art, advertising, science, medicine, anthropology, forensics and journalism, and was becoming a normal part of daily life
As point-and-shoot cameras developed, so did the popularity of photography. Kodak’s promise, ‘You press the button, we do the rest’, meant that photography was no longer restricted to those prepared to learn the intricacies of developing negatives. Family history and everyday life were preserved in snapshots and assembled in albums.
Journals and magazines promoted the work of leading art photographers, advertised the latest technology and provided ‘how-to’ guides on achieving better photographs. Competitions and camera clubs proliferated, fostering relationships between photographers locally and internationally.
Irish tenor John McCormack, 1913, silver gelatin photograph by Mina Moore. Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria.
New Zealand sisters May and Mina Moore moved to Sydney in 1910 and established a successful photography studio. They opened another studio in the Tait’s Auditorium building, Collins Street, Melbourne, in 1913. Mina Moore managed the new studio, and it proved an ideal location for fostering relationships in the theatrical world.
The Moore sisters photographed most of the musicians and actors touring in 1913, and their portraits were frequently used as publicity shots. John McCormack first toured Australia in 1911 with Dame Nellie Melba. By 1913 he had left opera to tour a program of arias, ballads and Irish songs. The programs for his farewell concerts in Sydney were decided by public ballot.
The Moore portraits are characterised by the direct gaze of the subject and the soft light falling on the side of their face. They eschewed the props that were standard in earlier studio portrait photography – except, of course, for the splendid costumes worn by many of their sitters.
Australian actress Louise Carbasse, about 1913, silver gelatin photograph by Rudolph Buchner. Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales, P1/304.
Rudolph Buchner had a studio in Sydney and advertised as an ‘artist in portraiture’ who ‘produces portraits that possess Individuality, Character and much Charm’. This is certainly apparent in this portrait of Louise Carbasse, a successful actress and vaudevillean who departed Australia in 1914 for Hollywood and stardom in silent films under the name ‘Louise Lovely’.
Influences and inspiration
Siesta, 1913, watercolour by Thea Proctor. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Gift of SH Ervin, 1962. Copyright Art Gallery of New South Wales.
In 1913, art forms besides traditional easel painting were flourishing. Artists and designers continued their love affair with the design possibilities of Australian flora and fauna. Pen-and-ink drawings and etchings were highly regarded, and professional and amateur photographers were pursuing the artistic possibilities of photography.
Due to a strong network of art schools and women’s art and craft societies, it was an environment that particularly suited women artists. Many of them specialised in graphic mediums, such as printmaking, and photography, woodwork and metalwork.
New currents in art in Europe were beginning to be felt in Australia. Artists returning to Australia from Europe introduced new elements, especially new attitudes to colour. Many artists, such as Thea Proctor and Rupert Bunny, sought to incorporate the brilliance and the exoticism of the Russian Ballet into their work.
Sydney artist Thea Proctor lived in London between 1903 and 1921, but spent the years 1913 and 1914 in Australia. In 1913 her watercolours and painted fans were exhibited to acclaim. Yet, despite the success of her work, Proctor harboured a certain disdain for the Australian art scene, which she regarded as provincial and old-fashioned.
'The Crucified Venus' by Norman Lindsay
The Crucified Venus, 1912, pen and ink drawing by Norman Lindsay. Courtesy H, C and A Glad.
The Crucified Venus is an expression of Norman Lindsay's belief that Christianity is a repressive force: clerics and puritans are shown nailing up the goddess of love. The drawing was shown in Melbourne in 1913, provoking such hostility and debate that it was first removed from, and then reinstated in, the exhibition. It was later destroyed in a fire.
A preparatory pencil sketch for The Crucified Venus is on show in Glorious Days, on loan from the Norman Lindsay Gallery, National Trust of Australia (NSW).
'Sewing (The Artist's Wife)' by Hans Heysen
Sewing (The Artist’s Wife), 1913, oil on canvas by Hans Heysen. The Cedars, The Hans Heysen Estate, Hahndorf, South Australia. Image courtesy of Art Gallery of South Australia.
Sewing, which depicts the artist’s wife, Sallie, at her sewing machine, is an unusually domestic picture in Hans Heysen’s body of work. In keeping with its intimate subject-matter, the painting was not sold, but remained in the family home at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills.
Heysen developed his imagery of massive gum trees and rural quietude in the early years of the century. By 1912 he was one of Australia's most successful artists. His masterpiece, Red Gold, entered the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia in the year it was painted. Red Gold is also on show in Glorious Days.