Clarice Beckett

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Clarice Beckett
Photo of Clarice Marjoribanks Beckett.jpg
Born
Clarice Majoribanks Beckett

(1887-03-21)21 March 1887
Casterton, Victoria, Australia
Died7 July 1935(1935-07-07) (aged 48)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
NationalityAustralian
EducationNational Gallery School
Known forPainting
MovementAustralian Tonalism

Clarice Marjoribanks Beckett (21 March 1887 – 7 July 1935) was an Australian artist and a key member of Australian tonalist movement. She is represented in the collections of Australia's major public galleries, including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Early life[edit]

Beckett was born in Casterton, Victoria, the daughter of Joseph Clifden Beckett (c1852-1936), a bank manager,[1] and his wife Elizabeth Kate, née Brown (c1855-1934). Her grandfather was John Brown, a Scottish master builder who had designed and built Como House and its gardens in South Yarra, Victoria.

Clarice was a boarder at Queen's College, Ballarat until 1903, before spending a year at Melbourne Church of England Girls' Grammar School. She showed artistic ability, and after leaving school took private lessons in charcoal drawing at Ballarat. In 1914 she went to Melbourne's National Gallery School, completing three years of study under Frederick McCubbin before continuing her studies under Max Meldrum, whose controversial theories became a pivotal factor in her own art practice.[2]

In 1919 her parents moved from Bendigo to the Melbourne bayside suburb of Beaumaris and, with their health failing, Beckett assumed household responsibilities that virtually dictated the structure of the rest of her life, severely limiting her artistic endeavour. Beckett could only go out during the dawn and dusk to paint as most of her day was spent caring for them.[3]

Work[edit]

Silent Approach, c. 1924, National Gallery of Australia

Beckett is recognised as one of Australia's most important modernist artists, though some have classified her as a 'daughter of Monet'.[4] In his review of the first of two exhibitions held at the Rosalind Humphrey Gallery in 1971 and 1972, Patrick McCaughey described Beckett as a remarkable Modernist, because of the 'flatness of the surface in her painting'.[5][6] Despite a talent for portraiture and a keen public appreciation for her still lifes, the subject matter favoured by her teacher Meldrum, Beckett preferred the solo, outdoor process of painting landscapes.[7] She persistently and diligently painted sea and beachscapes, rural and suburban scenes, often enveloped in the atmospheric effects of early mornings or evening. Her subjects were often drawn from the Beaumaris area, where she lived for the latter part of her life.[7] She was one of the first of her group to use a painting trolley, or mobile easel to make it easier to paint outdoors in different locations.[8]

Formal qualities and reception[edit]

In her mid-thirties, Beckett elucidated her artistic aims in the catalogue accompanying the sixth annual exhibition of the Twenty Melbourne Painters in 1924:

To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try to give forth in correct tones so as to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality.[9]

A critic from The Age wrote later that year:

One would imagine from the little scenes that Miss Beckett has gathered, in the name of Australian art, that Australia was in a continual state of fog – all kinds of fogs – pink, blue, green and grey with an occasional mist that surely was never on land or sea. Miss Beckett is probably feeling her way through the fogs and no doubt she will […] at least rise above the dreariness which characterizes her paintings at present.

Another critic in 1925 took her to task over "a tendency to fuzziness and a certain weakness of drawing," but complimented her on "the best display she has made to date," especially "a view through the trees approaching the city in the twilight of a winter evening," which she as "nailed well."[10]

Passing Trams, 1931, Art Gallery of South Australia

Also writing in 1925, the generally reviled and now discredited Melbourne Herald reviewer James S. MacDonald,[11][12][13] who even into the 1950s despised any Modernism starting with Paul Cézanne, was especially derogatory, favouring, if anything, the flower studies that Beckett regarded as minor in comparison with her landscapes.[14]

By 1931, however, Percy Leason, writing a long review in Table Talk,[15] draws comparison with Rembrandt, Whistler and Corot to say;

Miss Beckett's work has so much in common with them: there is a like success in achieving the first essential, a convincing illusion of actual space and air and light; the same refinement and delicacy of true color; the same regard for true form and character; and the same complete indifference to conventions and the mere clever handling of paint for the sake of it. (Leason in the next issue of Table Talk reiterated his praise, calling the show "one of the best exhibitions of the year."[16]

However, like her female contemporaries, Beckett faced considerable prejudice from conservative male artists. Meldrum, commenting as late as 1939 on Nora Heyson's receiving the Archibald Prize, expressed his opinion on women's capacity to be great artists; "Men and women are differently constituted. Women are more closely attached to the physical things of life, and to expect them to do some things equally as well as men is sheer lunacy [...] A great artist has to tread a lonely road. He becomes great only by exerting himself to the limit of his strength the whole time. I believe that such a life is unnatural and impossible for a women." [17][18] an attitude he qualified in relation to his favourite pupil Beckett,[19] announcing in the event of her death that "Beckett had done work of which any nation should be proud."[20]

During her lifetime no Beckett work was purchased for a public collection, though now almost every major Australian gallery holds examples in their collection. By 2001 her paintings had achieved six figures at auction.[21]

Australian Tonalism[edit]

Hawthorn Tea Gardens, 1933, Art Gallery of South Australia

Australian Tonalism is characterised by a particular "misty" or atmospheric quality created by the Meldrum painting method of building "tone on tone". Tonalism developed from Meldrum's "Scientific theory of Impressions." John Christian in a 1999 analysis paraphrases Meldrum's conviction that Art "should be a pure science based on optical analysis; its sole purpose being to place on the canvas the first ordered tonal impressions that the eye received. All adornments and narrative and literary references should be rejected."[22]

Tonalism opposed Post-Impressionism and Modernism, and is now regarded[by whom?] as a precursor to Minimalism and Conceptualism.[citation needed] The whole movement had been under fierce controversy and they were without doubt the most unpopular group of artists, in the eyes of most other artists, in the history of Australian art.[citation needed] Influential Melbourne artist and teacher George Bell described Australian Tonalism as a "cult which muffles everything in a pall of opaque density".[23]

Meldrum blamed social decadence for artists' exaggerated interest in colour over tone and proportion.[22] Beckett's painting however represents a departure from Meldrum's strict principles which dictated that tone should take precedence over colour, as commented upon in a newspaper critique of her 1931 solo exhibition.[24] A reviewer of her 1932 Atheneum show[25] expressed her particular version of this as "an adaptation of art to nature, which belongs neither to the realm of the orthodox normalist or the avowed modern, but is a purely individual expression of certain sensations in light, form and color..." Rosalind Hollinrake, who was largely responsible for Beckett's revival,[26][21] notes a use colour to reinforce form, and more daring design, in the later years of the artist's short life.[3]

Death[edit]

While painting the sea off Beaumaris during a storm in 1935, Beckett developed pneumonia and died four days later, aged 48, in a hospital at Sandringham.[27] She was buried in the Cheltenham Memorial Park.[7]

Legacy[edit]

A major memorial exhibition was organised by Beckett's sister and her father in 1936 at the Athenaeum. In 1971 Beckett's sister alerted Hollinrake to a tragedy;[28] more than 2,000 of her works had been left abandoned to the elements and vermin in an open-sided hay shed near Benalla.[29] Most were unsalvageable, but thirty well-preserved but neglected works were discovered at the Montsalvat artist colony, sent there when the Beaumaris home was cleared.[30][31] Over 1999 and 2000, the retrospective exhibition Politically incorrect: Clarice Beckett constituted from some of the remaining paintings and organised by the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, and Rosalind Hollinrake, toured eight national galleries.[19]

Selected paintings[edit]

Exhibitions[edit]

Solo exhibitions[edit]

Group exhibitions[edit]

  • 1918 May, Victorian Artists' Society Autumn Exhibition, East Melbourne
  • 1918 September, Victorian Artists' Society Spring Exhibition, East Melbourne
  • 1919 September, A Meldrum Group, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1920 June, A Meldrum Group, Athenaeum Gallery[45]
  • 1921 May, A Meldrum Group, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1922 May, Victorian Artists' Society Autumn Exhibition, East Melbourne
  • 1922 November, Victorian Artists' Society Spring Exhibition, East Melbourne
  • 1923 April, Victorian Artists' Society Autumn Exhibition, East Melbourne
  • 1923 July, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1923 October, Victorian Artists' Society Spring Exhibition, East Melbourne
  • 1924 May, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1925 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1926 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1926 December, Women's Art Club, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1927 July, Women's Art Club, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1927 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1928 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1928 October, Melbourne Society of Women Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1929 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1929 October, Melbourne Society of Women Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1930 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1930 October, Melbourne Society of Women Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1931 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1931 October, Melbourne Society of Women Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1932 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1933 March, Meldrum Gallery[46]
  • 1933 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1934 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
  • 1934 October, A Meldrum Group, Athenaeum Gallery

Selected posthumous exhibitions[edit]

  • 1936 Athenaeum Gallery (Memorial Exhibition)[20]
  • 1971 Rosalind Humphries Galleries, Melbourne
  • 1973 "Clarice Beckett", David Sumner Galleries, Adelaide
  • 1975 Macquarie Galleries, Sydney
  • 1979 Realities, Melbourne (Retrospective Exhibition)
  • 1980 Gallery Huntly, Canberra
  • 1995 Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Paddington, Sydney (with Olive Cotton)
  • 1999–2000 "Politically incorrect: Clarice Beckett" A retrospective touring exhibition organised by The lan Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne:
The lan Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria: 5 February 1999 – 28 March 1999
SH Ervin Gallery (National Trust of Australia NSW), Sydney, NSW: 24 April 1999 – 13 June 1999
Orange Regional Gallery, Orange, NSW: 19 June 1999 – 18 July 1999
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide SA: 6 August 1999 – 19 September 1999
Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo, Victoria: 30 September 1999 – 31 October 1999
Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat, Victoria: 5 November 1999 – 16 January 2000
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, Tasmania: 3 February 2000 – 26 March 2000
Burnie Regional Art Gallery, Burnie, Tasmania: 7 April 2000 – 22 May 2000
  • 2000ff: Niagara Galleries, Melbourne has held three survey exhibitions of Beckett's work in 2000, 2002 and 2014.[47]

Represented in public collections[edit]

  • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
  • Parliament House Collection, Canberra
  • S.H. Ervin Gallery (National Trust of Australia, NSW), Sydney
  • State galleries:
  • Queensland,
  • South Australia,
  • Victoria,
  • Western Australia
  • Regional galleries:
  • Ballarat,
  • Benalla,
  • Bendigo,
  • Castlemaine,
  • Geelong,
  • Langwarrin,
  • Morwell,
  • Launceston,
  • Shepparton,
  • Warrnambool,
  • Wollongong
  • Universities:
  • Canberra,
  • La Trobe,
  • Queensland,
  • Western Australia

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Ian Burn (1990) National life & landscapes: Australian painting, 1900-1940 Bay Books
  • Mary Eagle and John Jones (1994) A story of Australian painting, Macmillan
  • Rosalind Hollinrake (1979) Clarice Beckett: The artist and her circle, Macmillan
  • Stephanie Holt (1995) "Woman about town, urban images of the 1920s and 1930s", Art and Australia, Summer 1995 vol. 33 no. 2
  • Garry Kinnane (1996) Colin Calahan: a portrait, Melbourne University Press
  • Chris McAuliffe (1996) Art and suburbia: a world art book, Craftsman House
  • Margaret E. McGuire (1986) "Life and your imaginings, the art of Clarice Beckett", Australian Journal of Art, vol. 5, Art Association of Australia 1986
  • Margaret E. McGuire (1984)The singular career of Clarice Beckett: painting & society in Melbourne 1916-1936, unpublished thesis, The University of Melbourne
  • Peter and John Perry (1996)Max Meldrum & associates, their art, lives and influences, Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum
  • Terry Smith (1997) "Pictures of, painting as" in Geoff Levitus Ed., Lying about the landscape, Craftsman House 1997
  • Robin Wallace-Crabbe (1997) "Artist's choice:- Eloquent silence", Art and Australia 1997 vol.35 no.2
  • Drusilla Modejesa (2014) Clarice Beckett at the Edge: Clarice Beckett 29 April- 24 May 2014, Niagara Galleries (Catalogue of exhibition held at Niagara Galleries).
  • Hollinrake, Rosalind (1999), Politically Incorrect, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, ISBN 0-7340-1593-3
  • Modjeska, Drusilla (2002), 'Framing Clarice Beckett' in Timepieces, Picador, ISBN 978-0-330-36372-3
  • Kristel Thornell (2010) Night Street , Allan and Unwin

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Joseph Clifden BECKETT was the manager of the Colonial Bank at Casterton 1875-1903". Casterton Historical Society http://www.swvic.org/casterton/beckett_joseph.htm accessed 5 Nov 2014
  2. ^ "AUSTRALIAN ARTISTS OF TO-DAY". The Age (23, 797). Victoria, Australia. 18 July 1931. p. 7. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ a b Rosalind Hollinrake, 'Beckett, Clarice Marjoribanks (1887–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/beckett-clarice-marjoribanks-5178/text8701, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 5 November 2014.
  4. ^ Kinnane, Garry (1996), Colin Colahan : a portrait, Melbourne University Press, p. 3, ISBN 978-0-522-86678-0
  5. ^ "TOUCH SINS ON BECKETT.(FEATURES)", The Australian (National, Australia), News Limited: 019, 12 February 1999, retrieved 26 April 2020
  6. ^ "COLIN COLAHAN.(Features)", The Australian (National, Australia), News Limited: 012, 18 October 1996, retrieved 26 April 2020
  7. ^ a b c "THE LATE CLARICE BECKETT". The Age (25, 033). Victoria, Australia. 9 July 1935. p. 7. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ Catalogue: "Misty Moderns – Australian Tonalists 1915–1950", written by curator Tracey Lock-Weir, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 2008
  9. ^ Beckett, C., Twenty Melbourne Painters 6th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1924, quoted in Lindsay, F., ‘Foreword’ in Hollinrake, R., Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect, exhibition catalogue, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, 1999, p. 19
  10. ^ "ART NOTES". The Age (21, 928). Victoria, Australia. 15 July 1925. p. 14. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ Roy Forward, 'Macdonald: Was He the Worst?: J.S. MacDonald, Self-portrait, 1921' National Gallery of Australia Research Paper no. 45
  12. ^ Bernard Smith, ‘The Fascist Mentality in Australian Art and Criticism,’ first pub. in the Communist Review, June 1946, pp.182–84 and July 1946, pp.215–17; republished in his The Critic as Advocate: Selected Essays 1948–1988, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1989, pp.44–51.
  13. ^ Bernard Smith, The Death of the Artist as Hero: Essays in History and Culture, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1988, p.70.
  14. ^ "A MISTY EFFECT". The Herald (15, 023). Victoria, Australia. 14 July 1925. p. 17. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  15. ^ a b "CURRENT ART SHOWS". Table Talk (3310). Victoria, Australia. 15 October 1931. p. 15. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  16. ^ "CURRENT ART SHOWS". Table Talk (3213). Victoria, Australia. 5 December 1929. p. 14. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  17. ^ "Can a Woman Be an Artist". The Mail (Adelaide). 27 (1, 391). South Australia. 21 January 1939. p. 1. Retrieved 10 August 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  18. ^ "MARRIAGE BEFORE CAREER". The Herald (19, 245). Victoria, Australia. 21 January 1939. p. 8. Retrieved 10 August 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ a b Clarice Beckett; Rosalind Hollinrake; Ian Potter Museum of Art (1999). Clarice Beckett: politically incorrect. Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne.
  20. ^ a b "Work of Clarice Beckett". The Age (25, 289). Victoria, Australia. 5 May 1936. p. 9. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  21. ^ a b "Sun rises again for a misty modern". www.aasd.com.au. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  22. ^ a b Christian, John. "The subtle work of a much-neglected Australian artist". www.wsws.org. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  23. ^ Hollinrake, Rosalind (3 April 1985). "Painting against the tide". The Age.
  24. ^ a b "MISS CLARICE BECKETT". The Age (23, 871). Victoria, Australia. 13 October 1931. p. 5. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  25. ^ a b "ART NOTES". The Age (24187). Victoria, Australia. 18 October 1932. p. 5. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  26. ^ "Between sea and sky: a portrait of Clarice Beckett". Radio National. 11 August 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  27. ^ "Beckett art joins Misty Moderns in Langwarrin" by Teresa Murphy, Hastings Leader, 12 November 2009
  28. ^ Summers, Anne (2009), The lost mother : a story of art and love, Melbourne University Publishing, ISBN 978-0-522-85635-4
  29. ^ Beckett, Clarice. "Silent approach". Item held by National Gallery of Australia. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  30. ^ Jorgensen, Sigmund; Cross, Malcolm, (artist.) (2014), Montsalvat : the intimate story of Australia's most exciting artists' colony, Allen & Unwin, ISBN 978-1-74331-272-8CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  31. ^ Strickland, Katrina (2013), Affairs of the art : love, loss and power in the art world, Melbourne University Publishing, ISBN 978-0-522-85862-4
  32. ^ "ART EXHIBITION". The Argus (Melbourne) (23, 971). Victoria, Australia. 5 June 1923. p. 4. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  33. ^ "ART NOTES". The Age (21, 271). Victoria, Australia. 5 June 1923. p. 5. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  34. ^ "MISS BECKETT'S PAINTINGS". The Argus (Melbourne) (24, 359). Victoria, Australia. 2 September 1924. p. 14. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  35. ^ "MISS BECKETT'S PAINTINGS". The Argus (Melbourne) (24, 628). Victoria, Australia. 15 July 1925. p. 10. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  36. ^ "ART NOTES". The Age (22244). Victoria, Australia. 21 July 1926. p. 13. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  37. ^ "WOMAN'S WORK IN OILS". The Herald (15, 711). Victoria, Australia. 26 September 1927. p. 15. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  38. ^ "Women's World". Advocate. LX (3868). Victoria, Australia. 6 October 1927. p. 38. Retrieved 27 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  39. ^ "MISS BECKETT'S ART". The Age (22870). Victoria, Australia. 25 July 1928. p. 13. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  40. ^ "CURRENT ART SHOWS". Table Talk (3212). Victoria, Australia. 28 November 1929. p. 15. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  41. ^ "MISS BECKETT'S ART EXHIBITION". The Age (23, 570). Victoria, Australia. 24 October 1930. p. 8. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  42. ^ "ART EXHIBITION". The Argus (Melbourne) (26, 264). Victoria, Australia. 17 October 1930. p. 13. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  43. ^ "A WOMAN'S LETTER". Cairns Post (9286). Queensland, Australia. 3 November 1931. p. 8. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  44. ^ "Beckett Landscapes at the Meldrum Gallery". The Age (24, 533). Victoria, Australia. 28 November 1933. p. 7. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  45. ^ "PAINTING". Advocate. LII (2750). Victoria, Australia. 10 June 1920. p. 21. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  46. ^ "ART". The Australasian. CXXXIV (4, 397). Victoria, Australia. 15 April 1933. p. 17. Retrieved 28 July 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  47. ^ "Niagara Galleries - Contemporary Art Gallery Melbourne, Australia - Clarice Beckett". niagaragalleries.com.au. Retrieved 25 August 2019.

External links[edit]