Emma Minnie Boyd, Art and Opportunity in Marvellous Melbourne

Introduction

The period from the mid to late 1800s was a pivotal time for the development of art in Melbourne, which was then known as Marvellous Melbourne.

Until the ‘crash’ in the 1890s, Melbourne was thriving as a result of the gold rush.  (The population of Victoria at this time was just under one million, with about half that number living in Melbourne.)

The first railways were built in the 1850s and by the 1860s it was possible to travel from Melbourne to Richmond, Brighton, Hawthorn, Bendigo and Ballarat.  As well, the first cable tram was operating along Flinders Street to Richmond by 1885. Within five years, trams were ferrying people between the city and inner suburbs along 65 kilometres of tram tracks[1]. Melbourne had the first telephone exchange in Australia and by 1887 there were approximately 8000 calls a day.

marvell me

With increasing wealth, the city turned its attention to building cultural and educational institutions.

Melbourne University, which was established in 1853,  began to admit women in 1880 (except in study of Medicine)[2].

The Public Library, now known as the State Library of Victoria, opened in Melbourne in 1859,  and the National Gallery of Victoria opened in the 1860s, with the Government granting it the princely sum of £2000 to purchase art work.  It was housed in the McArthur Gallery within the Library from 1875 and was the first gallery purpose built for paintings.  The Gallery was immediately popular with early attendance figures of over 360,000 in its first year[3].

lib

The National Gallery Art School, School of Design, accepted its first students in 1867 and in 1870 it split into two schools which were run as separate institutions.

Melbourne also hosted an International exhibition in 1880-1.

The tradition of modern international exhibitions had commenced in 1851, when London hosted two international exhibitions. This set off a hectic timetable with exhibitions held approximately every two years somewhere around the world until 1893[4].

The Great International Exhibition of 1880-1 was held at the Royal Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens. The exhibition included everything from works of art, furniture and accessories,  and textiles to raw and manufactured products, agriculture and horticulture[5].

melb ex

Private galleries and studios also began to appear. In upper Collins Street, from the GPO to Spring Street, there were art dealers, a framing store and Isaac Whitehead’s Gallery.

Fletchers art gallery collins st melbourne

In 1885, Johnstone O’Shannessy opened his luxuriously furnished photographic salon in Collins Street and in 1888 the purpose-built artists’ studio complex, Grosvenor Chambers, which was the first in Australia, opened near the corner of Spring Street.

One-third of all the members of the Victorian Artists’ Society had their studios in this section of Collins Street. Tom Roberts created the most elaborate studio in the aesthetic style, drawing on Asian influences and decor and light wicker work[6].

Victorian Artists Society
The Victorian Artists Society

 

The Victorian Academy of Art  (VAA) which was established in 1870, offered schools for the study of fine arts and hosted annual exhibitions. It amalgamated with the Australian Artists Association (est. 1886) to form the Victorian Artists’ Society (VAS) in 1888.

 

As a result, more opportunities to study art became available, and there was an increasing interest in plein air painting, which contributed to Australia’s developing sense of nationalism. The ‘Heidleberg’ and other artists had greater opportunities to exhibit their work publicly, and wealthy patrons sought to have their portraits painted. Private art teachers travelled to and from Europe and Britain bringing with them new techniques and ideas.

Emma Minnie Boyd

Emma Minnie Boyd  (1858 – 1936) was well placed to emerge as a highly professional and respected artist during this period, even though her achievements, like so many female artists of her time, were not celebrated into the future. Known as Minnie to distinguish her from her mother, also named Emma, she displayed an early talent.

She was a painter in oils and watercolours, a printmaker, sculptor,  children’s book illustrator, ceramics painter and she made numerous sketches. One of her earliest works was an oil painting on a gum leaf (which was popular at that time[7]) Bush Scene, The Walk  Chiltern area of North Eastern Victoria. In the early 1900s she also gave private art lessons.

leaves

Artistically, Minnie may have inherited her skills from her great-uncle Thomas a’Beckett who was an accomplished amateur artist, and her father’s cousin Ted a’Beckett, who had trained at the Royal Academy in London and was a professional portrait painter.

Both her mother, Emma, and her grandfather,  Sir William a’Beckett, the first Chief Justice of Victoria, were well known for their appreciation of the arts and they supported Minnie in developing her artistic talents. Emma hoped that ‘Minnie would make her mark [as a painter] in her time’[8].

Equally important was her family’s wealth, which enabled Minnie to train in drawing and painting both in Australia and overseas, and the opportunity to exhibit, without the need to earn a living or focus on finding a husband.  Her grandfather, John Mills, had arrived in Australia as a convict but after he gained his ‘ticket of leave’ he became a successful brewer and property owner – and he left Emma very well off when he died when she was only three. The marriage of Emma to William a’Beckett provided the family with both wealth and status.

Education and Tuition

As a result, Emma was able to support her family’s endeavours and young Minnie was privileged to be able to attend a school for young ladies, where her lessons included drawing.

Although there is a perception that young Australian women had few options for eduction outside the home in the 19th Century, according to  writer Majorie Theobold[9]  there were at least 30 female schools in Victoria – aimed at the middle class and wealthy.

There are reports of Minnie Boyd attending two different schools.  Dr Anne Sanders[10], Curatorial Researcher at the National Portrait Gallery, and Dr Anita Callaway[11] from the University of Sydney, report that she attended Madame Pfund’s school whilst the Boyd biographer, Brenda Niall reported that she attended Madam Vieusseux’s school[12].

Elise Pfund

In 1867 Swiss-born Madame Elise Pfund (1833–1921) established Oberwyl, a highly regarded private girls’ school in St Kilda. She ran the school until 1885, although it continued to operate until 1931. The school was named after her home village of Oberwyl in Switzerland, and the school gained a reputation for its French culture and style.

pfu

Oberwyl provided classes from kindergarten to senior secondary levels and attracted both day girls and borders. Classes were offered in arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, elocution, history, geography, mapping, scripture, nature study, music, singing, drama, dancing, drawing, needlework, physical culture and tennis.  Charitable work was an important part of the curriculum[13].

Together with her husband, architect and Victorian Surveyor-General, Elise Pfund was one of the important patrons of Heidleberg artists such Tom Roberts, who painted portraits of both Elise and her husband.

Julie Vieusseux

Brenda Niall wrote in her book, The Boyds, that Minnie had lessons at Madam Vieusseux’s school, where the ‘elegant, cultured and cosmopolitan’ principal set high standards in the teaching of art and French[14]. Marjorie Theobold states that the a’Beckett family were referees for the school when it began its formal existence in 1857[15], so it is likely that Boyd had some relationship with the school.

Julie and Lewis Vieusseux
Julie and Lewis Vieusseux

Madame Julie Vieusseux arrived in Australia in 1852 with her husband Lewis and their two small sons. They were among the thousands who migrated to Melbourne during the gold rush period.

Within a year she advertised “Drawing and Painting Classes for Young Ladies, who can enjoy the advantage of French conversation[16].

 

 

In 1857, Vieusseux founded the Vieusseux Ladies’ College. Her school swiftly became a highly fashionable establishment, were the upper classes enrolled their daughters. In 1863, the school had 103 students, an unusually high number for an Australian school for girls.

Louis Buvelot 1814 – 1888

Around the late 1870s or early 1880s Minnie received private lessons from a leading artist in Melbourne, Louis Buvelot.

J. C. Waite, Abram Louis Buvelot (inset) 1894
J. C. Waite, Abram Louis Buvelot (inset) 1894

Buvelot was born in Switzerland and settled in Melbourne in 1865 at the age of 51, with his wife Caroline-Julie Beguin.

After first earning a living in Melbourne as a photographer the year they arrived, Buvelot was able to concentrate on his painting, whilst Beguin, also an artist, supported them by teaching French.

Bouvelot preferred to paint directly from nature or plein air,  rather than painting exclusively in the studio from sketches.   He work is likened to the French Barbizon school and is considered to be the beginning of Realism in Australia.

Buv1

By 1869 Buvelot’s paintings Winter morning near Heidelberg and Summer afternoon, Templestowe had been purchased by the Board of Trustees of the Public Library, as part of the beginnings of an Australian Collection for the National Gallery. A year later the Trustees added his Waterpool near Coleraine (sunset) to this collection.

At this time Buvelot was teaching landscape drawing at the Carlton Artisans’ School of Design where he had a significant influence on the founders of the Heidelberg School.

Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin acknowledged him as the father of Australian landscape painting[18].  McCubbin wrote: ‘There was no one before him to point out the way; he possessed, therefore, in himself, the genius to catch and understand the salient living features of the country. I remember as if it were yesterday, standing one evening a long time ago, watching the sunset glowing in the trees in Studley Park, and it was largely through Buvelot that I realized the beauty of the scene[19].

National Gallery School

In 1876, 1877, 1879 and 1882[20]  Minnie attended the National Gallery School, which had only opened in 1867.

The Gallery School remained perhaps Australia’s most prestigious art education school, until its importance waned with the acceptance of modernism in the 1930s. Tuition at the school varied over the years, according to the interests of different teachers. Generally, however, classes followed the model of the European art academies. Students commenced their studies in the School of Design where they learnt the fundamentals of drawing, including outline drawing and tonal modelling of form. In the process they progressed from drawing plaster casts of antique sculptures to drawing from the human figure.

national school of art
Students at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, 1895

The School of Painting taught traditional painting skills. These included compositional skills and the academic technique of building up a painting in many layers, starting with thin paint and dark tones, and finishing with thicker paint and lighter tones on the surface[21].

Artists who were studying there during that period included Emanuel Phillips Fox, Rupert Bunny, Frederick McCubbin, Tom Roberts, May Vale, Jane Sutherland, Clara Southern, Josephine Muntz Adams and Arthur Merric Boyd,  who was to become Minnie’s husband in 1886.

Eugène von Guérard 1811- 1901

Eugène von Guérard tutored Minnie in painting in 1876 and 1879.  He had been appointed master of the National Gallery of Victoria School of Art (painting) and inaugural curator of its collection in 1870.

Eugene Von Geurard photo

Born in Vienna and trained in the German Romantic tradition, which suggested the presence of divine powers in nature, he was one of a number of artists who came to Australia attracted by the discovery of gold.

He arrived in Australia in 1852 and spent about two years prospecting near Ballarat before moving to Melbourne, where he established himself as an artist. He gained a reputation for his landscapes and homestead portraits, and also for his wilderness subjects of waterfalls and mountains[22].

Eugène von Guérard, Spring in the Valley of the Mitta Mitta with the Bogong Ranges, 1866
Eugène von Guérard, Spring in the Valley of the Mitta Mitta with the Bogong Ranges, 1866

Although he was criticised for his outmoded techniques as a teacher, which restricted students to copying artworks in the gallery’s collection,[23] Minnie Boyd must have seen value in his style as she was under his tutelage for two years. She was also tutored by George Folingsby in painting and Oswald Rose Campbell in drawing whilst at the Gallery School.

Minnie had a solid grounding in the fundamentals in drawing, combined with skills in both the mediums of oil and watercolour.  Like many artists of the time, Minnie had kept a sketchbook from the mid 1870s and her first sketchbook, from 1874-1878, contains over 50 small and detailed drawings primarily relating to her home, the surrounding district and her family, friends and pets.

sketc 1

Exhibitions

Minnie began exhibiting publicly as an amateur, at the age of 15, at the fourth VAA exhibition in 1874, with An Afternoon Nap, a watercolour of her mother asleep on a chaise lounge on their drawing room.  In the same year she painted a watercolour of her home, The Grange.

boy 1

Interior genre scenes were typical of her work at the time – depicting family and friends. These paintings of a leisurely lifestyle were often set against a backdrop of a window or door, inviting the viewer to become part of the scene. Even these early works demonstrate not only her painting and composition abilities, but also her understanding of light and shadow.

She also painted a series of botanic and still life works.

boy2

Although as a young single woman she didn’t travel in the same way as the male Heidelberg painters, many of whom she knew, she painted many landscapes during her career, initially around her country home in the hills of Parkaway, east of Melbourne, and then later on holiday in Tasmania, overseas in Britain and Europe and then again around the outskirts of Melbourne from the 1890s.

boy 3

By 1877 her status had changed from amateur to professional and in the following year three of her six oils and watercolours were exhibited with prices ranging from £6/6/0 for a watercolour drawing to £7/7/0 for the oil paintings and in 1879 her watercolour, Reaping, was one of the highest prices of all the watercolours at that exhibition [24]. By 1889 the asking price for her oil painting, The Letter, of £32 was comparable with the prices being asked for by Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton at the same exhibition, given the size of her work which was only 60 x 40 cm.[25]

Buxtons Gallery melbourneShe also exhibited at Buxton’s Art Gallery on several occasions, the same gallery where the  famous 9 x 5 Impressionist exhibition was held in 1887. (Interestingly, in his paper, Arabesques of Beauty: Cullis Hill,  the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, decorative decor and painting[26], Andrew Montana uses Minnie’s painting, Corner of a Drawing-Room, 1887, to demonstrate the ambience that the artists were aiming to achieve for the exhibition.)

Minnie herself was not interested in contributing to this exhibition, as her style was not Impressionistic, although she would have known the artists who had studied at the Gallery School whilst she was enrolled.

Minnie also contributed to the Victorian Jubilee Exhibition in 1884 and the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition of 1888-89.

She also sent two painting to English exhibitions – the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London in 1886 and the Exhibition of Australian Art, London, in 1898. The artists  contributing to the Exhibition of Australian Art, including both Emma and her husband Arthur Boyd (whom she’d married in 1886),  reads like a ‘who’s who’ of leading Australian male and female painters of the time[27].

By the late 1880s she and Arthur were also working from a studio in Collins Street.

Children’s Book Illustrations

Minnie and Arthur spent a number of their holidays in Tasmania, where she also exhibited her paintings, and it is possible that she met children’s author and illustrator Louisa Anne Meredith there around 1889-89. Minnie was invited to prepare a number of illustrations for Meredith’s book, Waratah Rhymes.

boy 4

She also painted three watercolours for the story The Light on Goat Island written by Mary Gaunt and published in Childhood in bud and blossom : a souvenir book of the Children’s Hospital bazaar in 1900[28]. 

Europe

In 1890 Minnie and Arthur travelled to Britain and Europe, arriving firstly at Brindisi near the southern tip of Italy, where they made their way to England sketching and painting en route, and finally making their base at the family home of Penleigh House in Wiltshire (about a three hours train trip to London) where her parents were already living.

Emma Minnie Boyd, To the Workhouse, 1891
To the Workhouse, 1891

Whilst in England the Royal Academy in London accepted a painting by  Minnie, To the Workhouse.  for an exhibition in 1891.

 

Minnie’s mother Emma purchased To the Workhouse, and gifted it to the National Gallery of Victoria, which currently holds five of her paintings.

She also produced at least one etching while in Britain, Hiker leaving hillside village, in 1892.

 

At the same time Minnie was learning to paint small works in black and white from Henry Blackburn, the editor of London Society, who had a strong reputation for his illustrations. However, from about this time, the majority of her paintings were watercolours, which may have been because they were quick and easy to execute during the period when she had a growing family.

boy 5

In 1892 she also had paintings included in an exhibition in Bristol before leaving France for Italy in 1893 and then Lucerne in Switzerland (where their fourth child, Martin, was born).

Return to Melbourne

The land crash of 1893 in Melbourne meant that her parents income was halved[29],  and the family chose to return to Australia, with Minnie and Arthur arriving in 1894.

The end of “Marvellous” Melbourne spelt the end of a leisurely lifestyle, but nonetheless both Minnie and Arthur were able to continue as artists, assisted by her mother who was still able to provide financial support.

boy 6

To supplement their income, Minnie taught art to students in her city studio in the Cromwell buildings (owned by her mother), whilst also continuing to exhibit to the Victorian Artists Society – displaying a number of paintings from the travel abroad.

In 1902 Minnie and Arthur held a joint exhibition at the grand home of Como in Toorak, owned by their friends Caroline and Charles Armytage – where they were lauded as being ‘amongst the best of Australian artists[30]. They sold over £100 of paintings and were offered a number of commissions. At that time it was most unusual for artists to hold independent exhibitions, most artists exhibited more formally in groups.

in 1908, the Boyds later purchased a farm at Yarra Glen, with the inheritance Minnie received following Emma’s death.

Minnie’s first Yarra Glen landscapes soon appeared in the Victorian Artists Society exhibitions.  At this time her paintings were mostly small watercolours which were moderately priced at around the four or five guinea mark.

Paintings in her later years also included fewer figures – they were mainly landscapes, at which she was particularly adept.  She was also fortunate to live rurally and close to the sea, enabling her to easily find subjects for her paintings.

boy 7

Some observations about the Emma Minnie Boyd’s art

Minnie Boyd worked as a professional artist, who clearly not only took every opportunity to develop her skills through formal studies and tutelage, but also to test her abilities in a range of media – although she is best known for her watercolours. Not an easy medium to excel in, it can be worked with quickly, unlike oil painting, and this may have been important to her at the time when she became a parent.

She displayed an early talent, exhibiting her first painting in 1874, with her last entry in an exhibition in 1932 – just 4 years before her death.

Minnie’s subject matter included domestic scenes, portraiture, still life, buildings and landscapes. Early in her career her focus was genre painting (painting of scenes from everyday life)  with landscapes being favoured particularly after her return from Europe in the 1990s.  Some early paintings also  have some narrative – such as Ere Care Begins, 1887 and To the Workhouse, 1891, but her later works are more picturesque – views of the rivers, sea and rural areas in the areas where she lived.

Exhibiting and selling her work was important to her, and in the early 1890s her mother wrote, “Minnie [is] doing some trees, she likes doing them and Arthur says they sell better than other pictures[31].

Minnie had a strong sense of  composition – her paintings lead you in and around a scene, with a number of interesting points to hold your attention. Her genre paintings have attracted a great deal of interest because of their detail, for example, Corner of a Drawing Room, 1887 (below left). The curved archway, painted in an off-white, with the light shining through, leads you into an intimate space where you feel the family could re-gather at any time. It looks homely, domestic and also appealing, particularly with the drawn curtains that invite you outside. The touches in the scene, chairs, footstools, cushions, ceiling and wall motifs, flowers and artefacts, all give you a sense of time and place in Melbourne. It’s a very restful, well executed oil painting.

boy 9

Afternoon Tea, painted a year later in 1888, is a painting of two women in another domestic setting. This painting has also made good use of the light flowing through the window, although there is less detail in this work.

The figures in the painting appear to be posed in quiet contemplation and there is no indication of imminent movement. (Unlike Minnie’s own busy life I find these women represent the enforced idleness of many middle and upper class women of the time.)

Yet some of Minnie’s portraits are show a greater sense of character, including a self portrait painted in 1912.

boy 8

Although I haven’t found many examples of her still life and botanical pictures, they are well executed. For example, her flower studies from the 1870s and Flowerpiece (date unknown but after 1886).

boy 10

The first study appears to be painted in 1873 (the date is a bit unclear) when Minnie would have been just 15, the second shows and increasing confidence and skill. The Flowerpiece clearly shows a strong development in her work – very carefully composed in an Impressionist style – it’s a very arresting and peaceful work. It’s made more appealing by the simple addition of the book and glasses to the left, and the added touches of the scattered light red flowers – just enough to lift and brighten the work.

Like many professional artists, Minnie was highly proficient in drawing, having kept sketchbooks since she was a teenager, drawing botanical works and later contributing illustrations for at least one children’s book.

boyd 11

Four of her works that I am particularly drawn to are A Bush Camp, c1870s, Doris Boyd sketching on the Yarra River, 1914, Fallen Tree (date unknown) and In Lucerne, 1893.

These four works span a 40 year period of her career, the first in oil and the others in watercolour.

Emma Minnie Boyd, A Bush Camp (c. 1870s)
A Bush Camp, c1870s

Bush Camp was painted during the 1870s, when Minnie was probably still in her teens. It has quite an Impressionistic style, at the time when Impressionism was reaching its peak in Europe. The brushstrokes are quite broad and flat,  with wonderful light coming into the picture, and the shadows are painted in deep mauve, not black or grey.

Tom Roberts, The Artists' Camp, 1887
Tom Roberts, The Artists’ Camp, 1887

 

It has a slight  ‘Heidelberg’ quality about it because of its subject, although it was painted the decade before Tom Roberts painted An Artists Camp in 1886 . (In Roberts’ painting I think that the pose of the sitting figure isn’t quite right – it looks awkward.)

 

 

Emma Minnie Boyd, Doris Boyd sketching on the Yarra River, 1914
Emma Minnie Boyd, Doris Boyd sketching on the Yarra River, 1914

The second painting, Doris Boyd sketching on the Yarra River, was painted in 1914 when Minnie was living at Yarra Glen with her family. Doris, her daughter in law, was also an artist. I find this pose more natural than some of her earlier figures, and the light colour of her dress takes you right into the picture, taking in all the painter’s equipment. The boot protruding from the skirt, painted in a similar colour to the hat, make the picture complete. It’s an idyllic painting of a person sitting in the sunshine absorbed in what they are doing.

Emma Minnie Boyd, Fallen Tree
Emma Minnie Boyd, Fallen Tree

Fallen Tree is a typical Australian rural painting for its era – immediately recognisable and comfortable for any-one who had lived in similar countryside. It’s a well composed painting, taken from a low vantage point, looking up to the majestic gum trees, the homestead with its chimney smoke and the mountains in the distance. There is a lovely device of the slightly darker and flatter grass that leads, like a meandering path, from the bottom right through to what could be a creek, then towards the centre and slightly left towards the house. The clouds are suggestive of rain that may have just moved through, with the sun now re-emerging. Overall, it’s very picturesque, and Minnie painted many other landscapes with the same careful composition which places us squarely in an Australian setting.

Emma Minnie Boyd, In Lucerne, 1893,

 

I really enjoy the modern-ness of Minnie’s painting, In Lucerne, painted in Switzerland in 1893 shortly before she returned to Australia. The simple wash, with a limited palette, but a splash of red on the stall, gives it a simplicity which works with the subject matter.  You can see how again Minnie is using the winding street to lead us from the front bottom left through to the centre of the picture, and the vertical proportions appear to be equal to the ‘golden ratio’.

 

Achievements

Emma Minnie Boyd was one of the few women who was able to combine her profession as an artist with marriage and a family, while at the same time holding a strong religious ethic and devotion to charitable works.

She was able to achieve this, not only as a result of her talent and commitment,  but also because she was born into a family with a strong interest in art who could afford to support not only her herself and her family during her lifetime.  Her husband, Arthur Merric Boyd, also an artist, put no obstacles in her way and they painted and exhibited together. For most of her married life, she also had some assistance in caring for her children and maintaining her home (although she was certainly active in these activities).

She was fortunate to be born at the time that Melbourne was expanding rapidly, where she had access to private education, tuition at the Gallery School and the ability to regularly show her work at numerous exhibitions, initially as an amateur and then professionally, both in Australia and Britain. She was also fortunate to be painting at a time of growing nationalism, with other well known artists from the ‘golden’ period of plein air painting.

A prodigious artist, she entered her work in many exhibitions and received numerous art awards, sold her paintings profitably and her work has been acquired by a number of state and regional galleries as well as the National Gallery of Australia.

Andrea Hope

Kiama Art Gallery

You’ll find the full article, together with the Bibliography, on my Australian Art History Website

logo AAH

https://www.australianarthistory.com/

[1] Museums Victoria, Marvellous Melbourne, https://museumsvictoria.com.au/longform/marvellous-melbourne/

[2] Melbourne International Exhibition 1880,

Official catalogue of the Exhibition, Volume One http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/298690, p48

[3] Lisanne Gibson, The uses of art, University of Queensland Press ,St Lucia, Qld, 2001, p32

[4] Louise Douglas, Representing colonial Australia at British, American and European international exhibitions, The National Museum of Australia’s journal reCollections (March 2008, Vol 3 No 1).

[5] Melbourne International Exhibition 1880, Official catalogue of the Exhibition, Volume One http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/298690

[6] Dr Anne Sanders, Less than Six Degrees of Separation, Lecture, 28 May 2011, National Portrait Gallery, Australia

[7] National Library of Australia, Picturing Australia, 2009, p70

[8]  Brenda Niall, Life class: biographer of the Boyds, Brenda Niall considers the role of the Victorian Gallery School in their careers. (Essay). Meanjin, June 2003, p. 120+

[9] Marjorie Theobald, Boundaries, Bridges, and the History of Education: An Australian Response to Maxine Schwartz Seller. History of Education Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 4, 1993, pp. 497–510, p502

[10] Dr Anne Sanders

[11] Anita Callaway, Emma Minnie Boyd, Design & Art Australia Online, https://www.daao.org.au/bio/emma-minnie-boyd/biography/, 1995

[12] Brenda Niall, The Boyds, Melbourne University Press, 2002 p57

[13] Edel Wignall, Christina’s Matilda, Interactive Publications, 2011

[14] Brenda Niall, The Boyds,  p57

[15] Marjorie Theobold, Knowing Women: Origins of Women’s Education in Nineteenth-century Australia, Cambridge University Press, 1966, p45

[16] Marjorie Theobald, Boundaries, Bridges, and the History of Education, p 504

[17] Marjorie Tipping, Eugène von Guérard’s Australian Landscapes, 1st ed, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1975.

[18] Ella Fry, Gallery Images, St George Books, Perth, 1984

[19] William Moore, The Art of Frederick McCubbin, Melbourne, 1916, quoted in The Story of Australian Art, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1934

[20] Jane Alexander, Emma Minnie Boyd 1858 –  1936, Morning Peninsula Regional Gallery, exhibition curator,  c2004, p8.

[21]National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Impressionismhttps://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/australianimpressionism/education/insights_artistic.html

[22] National Gallery of Australia, Eugene von Guerard: ‘Purrumbete from across the lake, 1858’, ABC Education

[23] https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/artists/von-guerard-eugene/

[24] Jane Alexander,  p9.

[25] Jane Alexander, p17

[26] Andrew Montana, Arabesques of Beauty: Cullis Hill,  the 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition, decorative decor and painting, State Library of Victoria, https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/La-Trobe-Journal-%2093-94-Andrew-Montana.pdf

[27] Exhibition of Australian art in London : Grafton Galleries, Grafton Street, London, W., 2nd April to 7th May, 189, National Library of Australia https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-52857935/view?partId=nla.obj-102528494

[28]Jane  Alexander, p 20

[29] Martin Boyd, A Single Flame, Dent & Sons Limited, 1939, p6.

[30] Jane Alexander, p21

[31] Brenda Niall, The Boyds, p103.

 

 

 

 

 

Eileen Mayo – Painter, Printmaker and Designer

While visiting the Christchurch gallery in New Zealand earlier this year, I came across a wonderful exhibition of the work of Eileen Mayo (1909 – 1994). 

Even though she lived  in Australia from the early 1950s until the early 1960’s, I didn’t know much about her. The work in the exhibition consisted mainly of prints and postage stamps, and it wasn’t until I did some further research that I discovered what a diverse artist Mayo was.

Eileen Mayo, Lobster Pot, Tempera on Board, early 1940s

She worked in almost every medium available to her during her career – oil painting (including murals), tempura, prints (including lithographs, linocuts, wood engraving and silkscreens). She was also an author of several nature books and had an interest in calligraphy.

As well, Mayo executed a number of designs for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes.

She was particularly highly regarded for her book illustrations,  as well as poster, postage stamp, book plate, diorama, tapestry and coin design.

Earlier in her career May also worked as a model to some of the best-known British artists of the day, including Laura Knight, Dod Proctor, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. (It was through Knight that she received her first major commission, which started her very successful career as an illustrator.)

Mayo actively demonstrated the Arts and Crafts movement’s belief that applied arts was of the same value as fine arts  – largely as an outcome of her training at the Slade School of Fine Arts at the University of London andat the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London (where she studied lithography, calligraphy and wood engraving).  Like other artists of the time her aim was to bring her talents into people’s home and workplaces and to make a living doing so.

She described an artist as ” … a work[er] who designs and/or makes things of our ordinary lives as beautiful as they can be“.[i] She argued that any division between ‘fine’ art and other art forms was illusory.

Equally, Mayo believed that painting was a craft to be mastered. In her review of M. Maroger’s, The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Masters (1949), she wrote, “We are so obsessed with the idea of painting being an ART that we forget, or even deliberately deny, that of its very nature (since it is not abstract but concrete) it is also a craft[ii].

 

A legacy  from her study at the Slade was a pictorial logic to her work based on the geometry of Piero della Francesca and the linear draughtsmanship of  Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.


According to biographer Jillian Cassidy, as a child Mayo was pre-occupied with drawing from nature, and had “anxious perfectionism and a predilection for making every task as difficult as possible in order to prove both her personal integrity as well as her artistic worth both to herself and to those around her[iii].

This focus on perfectionism remained with her throughout her career and as she took on new media, she went to great lengths to study her craft. For example, she was famously instructed by Claude Flight over the telephone on how to make a linocut.

In the 1930s she studied at Chelsea Polytechnic with Robert Medley, Henry Moore and Harold James, as well as studying lithography at Horsham School of Art with Vincent Lines.  In the 1940s Mayo travelled to France where she undertook a study of the historic tapestries at Cluny and Angers and studied tapestry design at the Tabard Ateliers at Aubusson.  She was taught the art of tapestry designing at St Céré by Jean Lurcat, the master of contemporary tapestry design.

Mayo also attended life drawing classes in France with Fernard Legér[iv].

Mayo also applied her perfectionism to her oil painting. She stated “I am especially concerned about the texture of paint. I like to think that if a small piece were removed from any part of a picture it would be interesting in itself“.[v]

Eileen Mayo, Still Life with a Painting of the Dancer Karsavina, c1920

(However, she was later to identify that painting was not her greatest strength.)

From the late in 1920s her work began to be commissioned for book illustrations and she produced linocuts, lithographs and wood engravings.

In the mid 1930s Mayo travelled by cargo ship to Durban, South Africa, where she made numerous drawings of the Zulu people as well as the  local fauna and flora, which she developed into paintings and prints on her return to England.

She produced her first book, commissioned by Waverly Book Company, in 1944, The Story of Living Things and their Evolution. It contained 300 pages of text and over 1,000 illustrations. Shells and How They Live was published the same year.

In 1945 Mayo wrote and illustrated two more books: Little Animals of the Countryside and Larger Animals of the Countryside, amongst others produced during her career.

Also in 1945 she exhibited her work for the first time at the Royal Academy. It was a lithograph titled Squirrel.

Eileen Mayo, The Squirrel, c1932, National Gallery of Victoria

By 1950 her prints were being more widely exhibited, including at Victoria and Albert Museum and at the Leicester Galleries. (The Victoria and Albert Museum currently holds 89 of her works in their collection.)

It was at this time that she began teaching lithography and illustration at Sir John Cass College and drawing at St Martin’s School of Art, and exhibiting at the Society of Women Artists at the Royal Institute Gallery and with the Royal British Artists.

In 1951, her tapestry Echinoderms was among three contemporary works selected for the exhibition English Tapestries shown during the Festival of Britain.

It was against this background, with her marriage over, that Mayo left England for Australia in 1952.


Eileen Mayo in Australia

Mayo arrived in Sydney suffering from depression and feeling guilty about the breakdown of her marriage.  She had made the move because her youngest sister was already living in Sydney, as were her friends Carol and George Foote.

With her substantial background in printmaking in particular, Mayo made a significant contribution to art in Australia, particularly as printmaking was enjoying a resurgence in interest during the 1960s.

She very quickly became friendly with Hal Missingham  (also a printmaker) who was the Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Elizabeth Pope from the Australian Museum, Douglas and Dorothy Dundas from the Australian Art School as well as Sir Daryl Lindsay (Director) and Dr Ursula Hoff (Assistant Keeper of Prints and Drawings) from the National Gallery of Victoria.

She exhibited in galleries across Australia and her prints were received with acclaim – only a year after her arrival she won the Albany Prize for printmaking  and her Woman and Siamese Cat (1952) won the Ku ring gai prize for prints in 1960. Her print Pumpkin won a prize in Adelaide in 1962. One major difficulty she faced in producing lithographs in Sydney at that time was the limited number of lithographic presses.

Mayo’s major focus while she lived in Australia was on earning a living through teaching (at East Sydney Technical College) and design commissions.

Overseas tourist travel during the war was almost nonexistent, but by the 1950s it was again becoming popular, and the Australian National Travel Association (ANTA) was commissioning innovative posters to promote tourism.

Three of Mayo’s poster designs were included in the 1955-57 edition of Modern Publicity which was a worldwide advertising journal. These designs were Discover Australia, Cockatoo and Banksia, and Koalas. Her Desert Pea design appeared in the 1958-59 edition and Great Barrier Reef in the subsequent edition. (Mayo wasn’t a newcomer to postermaking, having designed them since the 1930s.)

In 1957 she submitted several stamp designs to the Stamp Advisory Committee of the Postmaster General’s Department, in Melbourne. Although they weren’t considered to be suitable she was commissioned (at the suggestion of Daryl Lindsay) to prepare six possible stamps, each depicting an Australian animal  (such as the kangaroo, koala, opossum, Tasmanian tiger, banded anteater and bandicoot) which could be engraved for recess printing.

As with any work she undertook, she undertook thorough research. “My sources of information are whatever I can get and wherever I can find them.[vi]” This included museum specimens, photographs, colour slides, book illustrations and a visit to Taronga Park Zoo.

Although biologically correct, Mayo’s stamps were stylised decorative drawings, rather than photographic representations of the animals.  She considered that  ” … their design [should be] striking, simple and up to date without being gimmicky, which makes them old fashioned in a year or two[vii]“.



Such was the success of her designs, six Animals stamps were issued between 1959 and 1962, and Stamp Collecting Annual (UK) selected three Mayo designed stamps for the world’s top ten stamps of the year during three consecutive years[viii].

In 1964 when the French Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications invited the Australian Post Office to participate in an International Philatelic Exhibition in Paris, the Australian Post-Master General extended an invitation to Mayo to represent the country at the exhibition. “In view of your recent work for this Department, I would therefore like to offer you the opportunity of participating in this International Exhibition”. [ix]

From the late 1950s Mayo undertook mural painting commissions, including the Tree of the Invertebrates (which consisted of fifty-five panels) for the Australian Museum, Sydney in 1959 and a mural for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in 1961.

The Invertebrate Tree was organised to commemorate the centenary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of the Species. Measuring nine metres by two metres, over 20 people completed the mural over a period of 19 months. Mayo’s contribution consisted of 55 paintings of scientifically accurate enlargements of animals (such as insects, spiders, snails, jellyfish, scorpions, seashells, sea urchins and anemones) normally too small to be seen by the naked eye.

Unfortunately this mural no longer exists.

Her work for the CSIRO was for the main foyer for the building, however, as it was still under construction, Mayo executed the work in synthetic resin “applied by an old kitchen knife and a fine sable brush on panels of marine ply wood in her garage at Neutral Bay[x].

According to her great niece, the CSIRO mural did survive. “When the old CSIRO building was demolished, they were able to relocate it to their new one, as the mural had been painted on large boards (in Eileen’s garage in Neutral Bay)[xi] .

Mayo also had a number of smaller commissions. She worked for the Display Department at David Jones, between August 1953 and April 1954. Her diaries record the designing of advertisements for knitting machines, sun tan lotions and promotions for ‘Lower Ground Floor Bargains’. She also painted panels of birds and animals for a window display.

Another commission was to work on colour combinations for Claudio Alcorso of Silks and Textiles Printers Pty Ltd in Hobart in 1957. Mayo’s role  was to make colourways for the designs produced by the various artists, often five or six of them to preserve the tone values. Although offered a full time position, she was just beginning to establish good design contacts in Sydney and there was also the prospect of full-time teaching at the East Sydney Technical College.

Mayo also designed the decoration for a dinner set for the Reserve Bank of Australia’s Board Room in Melbourne. Although the Board appear to have approved her wild flower motif drawn between narrow brown bands, the dinner set was not produced.

Mayo moved to New Zealand to be with her mother and sister Margery in 1962, and she was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1994 New Year Honours one week before her death at the age of 87.


Eileen Mayo was driven not only by a sense of perfectionism, but also one of self doubt, during her long and successful career.

She was an artist who fully believed that fine art and arts and crafts were of the same value, and also believed in the importance of indepth study to develop technique. This meant that she placed no limitations on her art practices.

She amply demonstrated her abilities across a range of media, particularly in design, illustrations, various forms of printmaking and tempera painting.

I’m so pleased to have visited Christchurch gallery and discovered this wonderful artist, and the contribution she made to art in Australia, as well in New Zealand and the UK.


[i] Barbara R. Mueller, “The Stamp of the Artist,” Western Stamp Collector, 21 July, 1962, p 3.

[ii] Art News & Review, Vol. I, no. 6, 1947, p. 7.

[iii] Margaret Jillian Cassidy, SHIFTING BOUNDARIES: THE ART OF EILEEN MAYO, 2000. p23-24

[iv] ibid, p12.

[v] Jillian Cassidy, Eileen Mayo, Her Prints, Posters and Postage Stamps, in Woman’s Art Journal, vol 24, No1 p 17-22

[vi] Correspondence, Mayo to Mueller, 15 August I 961

[vii] Correspondence, Mayo to Gil Docking, Director of the City of Auckland Art Gallery, 28 April 1965.

[viii] https://shop.auspost.com.au/INTERSHOP/static/WFS/AusPost-Shop-Site/-/AusPost-Shop/en_AU/assets/document/1292363962-bulletin308_high.pdf

[ix] Correspondence, Australian Postmaster General to Mayo, 1964

[x] Cassidy, Shifting Boundaries, p 162

[xi] Lucie Stanford, great niece of Eileen Mayo


Sources

Jillian Cassidy, SHIFTING BOUNDARIES: THE ART OF EILEEN MAYO, 2000

Jillian Cassidy, Eileen Mayo, Her Prints, Posters and Postage Stamps, in Woman’s Art Journal, vol 24,

Design and Art Australia online

Independent Obituary: Dame Eileen Mayo, JOHN GAINSBOROUGH, Wednesday 5 January 1994

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū

Victoria and Albert Museum

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Australia Post

Lucie Stanford, great niece of Eileen Mayo