Clarice Majoribanks Beckett (21 March 1887 – 7 July 1935) was an Australian Tonalist painter whose works are featured in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Beckett was born in Casterton, Victoria, the daughter of Joseph Clifden Beckett (c1852-1936), a bank manager, 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.
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.
Beckett is recognised as one of Australia's most important modernist artists. Despite a talent for portraiture and a keen public appreciation for her still lifes, Beckett preferred the solo, outdoor process of painting landscapes. She relentlessly 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. 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.
Max Meldrum once stated, "There would never be a great woman artist and there never had been. Woman had not the capacity to be alone". It is believed this reflects the overall opinion of the period; Beckett was continually put down by the critics and sold little in her lifetime.
A critic from The Age, 2 September 1924, wrote—
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.
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"; claiming that social decadence had given artists an exaggerated interest in colour and, to their detriment, were paying less attention to tone and proportion. Art, he said, 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.
Tonalism opposed Post-Impressionism and Modernism, and is now regarded as a precursor to Minimalism and Conceptualism. 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. Influential Melbourne artist and teacher George Bell described Australian Tonalism as a "cult which muffles everything in a pall of opaque density".
While painting the wild sea off Beaumaris during a big storm in 1935, Beckett developed pneumonia and died four days later in a hospital at Sandringham She was buried in the Cheltenham Memorial Park (Wangara Road) not far from another noted female artist, Mary Vale. She was only 48 when she died, the year after her mother's death.
- 1923 June, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1924 September, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1925 July, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1926 July, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1927 September, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1928 July, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1929 November, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1930 October, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1931 October, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1932 March, The Meldrum Gallery
- 1932 October, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1933 November, The Meldrum Gallery
- 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
- 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 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1934 September, Twenty Melbourne Painters, Athenaeum Gallery
- 1934 October, A Meldrum Group, Athenaeum Gallery
Selected posthumous exhibitions
- 1936 Athenaeum Gallery (Memorial Exhibition)
- 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
Represented in public collections
- National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
- Parliament House Collection, Canberra
- S.H. Ervin Gallery (National Trust of Australia, NSW), Sydney
- State galleries:
- South Australia,
- Western Australia
- Regional galleries:
- La Trobe,
- Western Australia
- "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
- 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.
- Catalogue: "Misty Moderns – Australian Tonalists 1915–1950", written by curator Tracey Lock-Weir, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 2008
- Hollinrake, Rosalind (3 April 1985). "Painting against the tide". The Age.
- "Beckett art joins Misty Moderns in Langwarrin" by Teresa Murphy, Hastings Leader, 12 November 2009
- 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 (2104) Clarice Beckett at the Edge: Clarice Beckett 29 April- 24 May 2014, Niagara Galleries (Catalogue of exhibition held at Niagara Galleries).
- Rosalind Hollinrake (1999) Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne.
- Modjeska, Drusilla (2002), 'Framing Clarice Beckett' in Timepieces, Picador, ISBN 978-0-330-36372-3
- Kristel Thornell (2010) Night Street , Allan and Unwin
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