The Vibrant, Modern World of Eveline Syme

“Eveline Syme studied Classics at University but became a champion of the modernist style in Australia in the 1920s and 1930s. A traveller to Europe for creative development including as a student of London’s Grosvenor School of Modern Art, upon return she would freely share her artistic learnings with fellow artists and the public in Australia. The two works being offered for sale through Leonard Joel were both created around 1936 and display Syme’s skills in capturing her environment in a modernist style. The Elvet Bridge, Durham is a delightful example of her appreciation of European architecture.  Sydney Tram Line celebrates the modern urban age; as cars and trams traverse Sydney’s Double Bay”
– John Keats, Art Researcher and Consultant 

Eveline Syme (1888-1961) Sydney Tram Line 1936 (detail) linocut ed. 10/25 from 3 blocks, printed in 1) vermillion, 2) viridian; 3) burnt umber, impression on buff oriental laid tissue, originally mounted to brown paper backing, 24.4 x 17.9cm | $20,000-25,000

Leonard Joel’s annual Women Artists Auction is one of our most anticipated events for collectors, showcasing an array of female artists who often did not receive the recognition they deserved during their lifetimes, or even today. Within this October’s curated selection, we are proud to present works by Eveline Syme. Syme is arguably one of the most talented and respected modernist artists from the period, becoming an advocate for the modernist movement in Australia and a voice to be heard for women artists.

Syme’s artistic career was forged by her close friendship with fellow artist, Ethel Spowers. The pair travelled abroad in the 1920s to London where they attended The Grosvenor School of Art under the teachings of Claude Flight, a popular destination for those interested in printmaking. It was during this time that the school nurtured several talented female artists – such as Dorrit Black, Sybil Andrews and Lill Tschudi – all adopting and practicing Flight’s approach of multi-layered linocuts, which captured the speed and energy of the modern world.

Following her time abroad, Syme’s work followed the modernist and vibrant conception of the Grosvenor School linocut. She often illustrated scenes from her international travels, as well as rural and industrial landscapes across Australia. Along with many other artists of the time, she was drawn to Australian landmarks that reflected the progress of the 20th Century. 

Eveline Syme (1888-1961) The Elvet Bridge, Durham c.1936, wood-engraving ed. 8/50, 15 x 10cm | $1,500-2,000

Sydney Tram Line 1936, captures the winding streets of Sydney, demonstrating her adapted portrayal of movement. Using three bold colours and an over-laying technique, Syme created one of the most lyrical colour linocuts of the period. Curiously, in this edition of Sydney Tram Line 1936, Syme has signed, editioned and titled the sheet upon the verso instead of the front – perhaps she  was experimenting with different perspectives for the image, or perhaps it is just the result of an artist working swiftly. 

The Elvet Bridge, Durham, also featured in this collection, complements Eveline Syme’s body of work, with architecture as the focus. During the 1930s she produced numerous artistic examples of the industrialisation and urbanisation that was unfolding around her. These were key themes running through all Grosvenor artists’ works and central to the Claude Flight iconography.

It was artists like Eveline Syme who were influential in bringing the ideas and techniques of the colour linocut to Australia and contributing to the vital thread of modernism that is seen across institutions and collections today.

Leonard Joel would like to thank John Keats for his contribution to this article and for the cataloguing of these works. John Keats is currently writing the catalogue raisonnés for both Eveline Syme and Ethel Spowers. If you would like to find out more about these influential artists, the Canberra Museum and Gallery are exhibiting a rare insight into the collaboration between Syme and Spowers – Spowers & Syme, 13 August – 6 November 2021.

HANNAH RYAN / Art Specialist

September 2021