Southern was born in Kyneton, Victoria, in 1861. She studied at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School under George Folingsby and Frederick McCubbin. When in Melbourne she shared a studio at Grosvenor Chambers, 9 Collins Street, with Jane Sutherland from 1888. By 1908 she had established an artistic community of younger landscape painters at Warrandyte, a township on the Yarra about 30 kilometres from Melbourne. The community included Penleigh Boyd and Harold Herbert. Although her work was admired by the artists of her time, they were not very well known. Southern married John Arthur Flinn but usually exhibited under her original name.
An Old Bee Farm, held by the National Gallery of Victoria is one of her better known works. It was one of 56 paintings included in Lloyd O'Neil's Classic Australian Paintings, and was used as the cover illustration for Kay Schaffer's 1988 book Women and the Bush: Forces of Desire in the Australian Cultural Tradition.
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Southern, Clara". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
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