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Three Australian Women Artists You Should Know

Isabel Hunter Tweddle (1877-1945) Roses and Lilac, oil on canvas laid on board, 45 x 40cm | $1,000-2,000

Isabel Tweddle (1877-1945)

Isabel Tweddle was born and raised in Deniliquin, New South Wales. Her family had a profound impact on the development of the town, establishing the building firm Hunter & Son which erected some of the town’s most notable structures. At 19, Isabel enrolled at the National Gallery of Victoria school where she studied drawing under Frederick McCubbin and painting under Bernard Hall for three years. During her time as a student, she formed lifelong friendships with fellow artists Ada May Plante, A. M. E. Bale, Margaret Preston, and George Bell.

Isabel’s subjects were diverse, ranging from still life to landscape and portraiture. She was one of the founding members of the Twenty Melbourne Painters Society, was active in the Victoria Artists’ Society, the Contemporary Art Group, and the Women’s Art Club. In addition to being an artist herself, Isabel and her husband were great supporters and collectors of other artists’ work.

Women Artists. Leonard Joel Auctions
Bessie Norris Tait (1878-1939) Miniature Portrait of a Young Woman, watercolour, 4 x 3.5cm | $1,000-1,500

Bessie Norris Tait (1878-1939)

Bessie Norris Tait had her first drawing lessons, aged ten, from Jane Sutherland before studying under Frederick McCubbin and Bernard Hall at the National Gallery of Victoria School. She sent examples of her miniatures to London and was encouraged to go there to work and study in 1905. In London, she quickly became a darling of the art society, attracting a fashionable clientele. She was admired for breaking with the ‘chocolate-box’ method of miniature painting, and became a member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters in 1907. She completed a number of portrait commissions in Australia, held exhibitions locally, and had her works acquired by the state galleries. She returned to London in 1911 and secured patrons including J. Pierpont Morgan and Queen Alexandra. In addition to her work being acquired by Australian state galleries, she was the first Australian woman artist to have a work purchased by an English gallery.

For her popularity at the time, she is relatively unrecorded in Australian art history. This is thought less to be due to her achievements largely being overseas, but rather by her decision to predominantly paint miniatures, an art form traditionally deemed too twee or ‘feminine’ for academic recognition.

Women Artists. Leonard Joel Auctions
Frances Derham (1894-1987) Untitled 1949, oil on board, 34 x 24cm | $2,000-3,000

Frances Derham (1894-1987)

Frances “Frankie” Derham was schooled in Dunedin and Belfast before her family returned to Victoria where she enrolled at the National Gallery of Victoria school. 

Whilst an important part of her life was spent as an artist, she also advocated for the role of art in childhood development and worked as a teacher and lecturer. Her beliefs and teachings were considered highly progressive for the time, yet are enduring, with her practical guide “Art for the Child Under Seven” (1961) being widely used by parents and teachers through seven editions. 

Additionally, Derham was a member of the Arts and Crafts Society in Victoria. Inspired by Baldwin Spencer in the 1920s, she began to incorporate Aboriginal motifs into her designs, particularly in her prints. This sparked a lifelong interest in Aboriginal art. In 1938, she visited the Hermannsburg mission in the Northern Territory following the encouragement of Rex Battarbee and anthropologist Charles Mountford to study the art of Aboriginal children. In 1948 she made a further trip to the Aurukun Mission in far North Queensland. 

Despite regularly producing work, Derham never practiced full time as an artist, rarely exhibited, and gave much of her work away. A few of her own prints are in public collections, but most of her paintings and collages are held privately.

OLIVIA FULLER / Head of Art 

Banner Image: Isabel Hunter Tweddle (1877-1945) Roses and Lilac, oil on canvas laid on board, 45 x 40cm | $1,000-2,000

August 2023