The turn of the twentieth century was a critical time for women artists in Australia, and by the 1900s, women played an active part in the nation’s major art schools and institutions, often outnumbering their male peers. Ever so slowly, these female artists began to enter major exhibitions, travel to Europe to enhance their studies and pursue careers as successful artists. However, despite these achievements, museums did not deem it necessary to collect their works and in turn, they did not sell well on the art market, producing a vicious cycle of exclusion.
Has the deadlock been broken though? Our third Speciality Women Auction, on Wednesday 9 October, set a new auction record for Eveline Syme’s Sydney Tramline 1936 linocut, selling at an impressive $32,240 while Florence Fuller’s beautiful Portrait of a Boy 1888, estimated at $9,000-12,000 sold at a remarkable $42,160. Fuller paved the way for realism in the late 19th century during the economic boom in Melbourne, and caused a stir when she presented a painting of two young girls titled Love of Reading to the National Gallery of Australia, a move that challenged the stereotype of a woman and their depiction in art.
October’s Women Artists Auction paid homage to the fresh, colourful scents of Zinnias, Poppies and Daffodils. In multiple works we saw artists, Violet Mcinnes (lot 74), Anne Montgomery (lot 83) and Sybil Craig (lot 13 & 18) presenting their take on the humble still life, a genre of painting adopted by women in the Twentieth Century. While artists Nellie Govett (lot 28) and Violet Mcinnes again (lot 25) presented a more sombre take on the traditional scene.
With distinctive themes running through the collection, a number of these artists travelled to Europe to hone their skills and explore new subject matter, and techniques. Neo-impressionist artist, Jessie Traill delights us with a glowing watercolour of Oslo. While visiting Norway in the 1930s, Traill took inspiration from these cool landscapes, a true contrast to the dry Australian landscape in which she based her early etchings of. Lot 55, Trinity Church Oslo – Norway 1939 is a fine example of her palette adapting to her Nordic surroundings, adopting blues and grays to evoke the wintery landscape.
Mary Mercer (lot 5), Josephine Muntz-Adams (lot 57) and Elma Roach’s works followed suit but this time inspired by the Mediterranean, their art depicted bustling street scenes, old towns and breezy late afternoon sunsets.
Eveline Syme’s Sydney Tramline 1936 (lot 31) was a stand-out in this collection, and the artist was well versed in overseas travel, studying under the Claude Flight school with Ethel Spowers in the late 1920s. The bold colours, rhythmic design and movement was something unheard of in Australia. Upon returning home, Syme pioneered the new art scene and became an advocate for modern art and unsurprisingly a voice for women artists at the time. Syme’s dedication to the arts was well recognised, however it was her linocuts which made her globally recognised and widely praised for her unique body of work and complex understanding of colour and form.