Ernest Buckmaster

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Ernest William Buckmaster (1897–1968) was an Australian artist born in Victorial He won the Archibald Prize in 1932 with a portrait of Sir William Irvine. He also served as an Australian war artist during World War II.

Ernest Buckmaster
Ernest Buckmaster.jpg
Born3 July 1897
Died18 October 1968
Warrandyte, Melbourne (71 years)
Resting placeLilydale, cemetery
Home townMelbourne
Spouse(s)Dorothy Laura Cook (1936-39);
Florence Botting (1939-68)
AwardsThe Archibald Prize (1932);
the National Gallery of Victoria award (1941);
the Albury prize (1950 & 1963)
Patron(s)Cyril Steele

Life and career[edit]

Bckmaster was born in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn on 3 July 1897.[1] He was the eldest son of Harry Amos Buckmaster, straw-hat manufacturer, and his wife Letitia Martha née' Chandler.[2] He attended a state primary school at Box Hill where he showed drawing skills at an early age.

Buckmaster was apprenticed to a signwriter in 1913. His poor physique made him unsuitable for service in World War I. His employer, an amateur painter, suggested he undertake art training.

Buckmaster studied at the National Gallery School in Melbourne from 1918 to 1924. There his teachers included Bernard Hall and W.B. McInnes. He emerged as an accomplished painter of traditional portraits, still lifes and landscapes with a substantial work-rate and output. One of his grandchildren reported he could do three paintings in a day.[3] Large commissioned oil paintings work took longer. His Archibald prize winning portrait took fourteen sittings with the subject before it was finished.

His first solo exhibition took place at the Athenaeum Gallery in Melbourne in February 1926.[4] His financial position was such that he had to ask the framer to prepare them for hanging on credit. The paintings sold well, with one bought by the director of the National Gallery of Victoria for its collection.[5]

His work is popular in Australia and New Zealand where public art galleries and private collectors hold examples of his paintings. Buckmaster disliked modern art, criticising it in his book and in letters to newspapers.[6] A member of the Victorian Artists Society, he sold nineteen paintings exhibited with them between 1919 and 1924. He continued to be associated with the V.A.S. as a councillor (1929–30) and exhibitor (till 1943). In 1930 he left Australia on a year long study tour to Europe.[7] He visited Europe again in 1938.

His portrait of the lieutenant-governor of Victoria, Sir William Irvine, won the Archibald prize for 1932.[8] The following year he held solo exhibits in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. He was a foundation member of the Australian Academy of Art. In 1936 he was commissioned to paint a portrait of Sir James Mitchell, the lieutenant-governor of Western Australia.

Buckmaster was a Second World War official war artist for the Australian military's Military History Section.[9] This took him to Singapore to paint the Japanese surrender.[10] These paintings are held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Sir William Irvine, by Ernest Buckmaster (National Gallery of New South Wales). Winner of the Archibald Prize, 1932
”Rhododendrons,” 1930, by Ernest Buckmaster. (New England Regional Art Museum)
Still life, 1945, by E. Buckmaster. (New England Regional Art Museum)
”Evening, Olinda,” 1939, by E. Buckmaster. (New England Regional Art Museum)

He married Dorothy Laura Cook on 12 February 1936. They divorced on 15 February 1939 and a week later he married Florence Botting in Melbourne.

Buckmaster made two extended trips to New Zealand in the 1940s and 1950s. On the latter visit he travelled 12,000 miles around the country painting landscapes on commission for the directors of Dominion Breweries in Auckland.

He died on 18 October 1968 at his home at Warrandyte. He was survived by his wife and their five children. His grave is in the Lilydale cemetery.

There is a self portrait is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Some of Buckmaster's work is on extended loan from his family to The Hotel Windsor in Melbourne.[11]

Ernest Buckmaster showing students how to paint c1950. One of the students is James Mollison (State Library of Victoria)

As well as the Archibald prize he received the National Gallery of Victoria Award (1941) and twice won the Albury Art Prize (1950 and 1963).[12]

Although an accomplished painter of portraits and still life subjects, he is best known for his landscapes. Those he generally painted En plein air rather than from photographs.

One of his paintings sold in 2003 for Aus$27,025.[13] The average price of 951 of his paintings sold at auction between 1986 and 2009 was Aus$4,810.[14]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
John Longstaff
Archibald Prize
for Sir William Irvine
Succeeded by
Charles Wheeler


  1. ^
  2. ^ Joyce McGrath, “Buckmaster, Ernest (1897-1968), Australian Dictionary of Biography, online, accessed 23 April 2019 [1]
  3. ^ See, untitled talk, 2008, for this page
  4. ^ The Age (Melbourne), 15 February 1926, p.11
  5. ^
  6. ^ Western Mail (Perth, WA) 4 June 1931, p.7
  7. ^ ”City man to pay for artists tour - Generous undertaking,” The Herald, 10 November 1930, p.5 [2]
  8. ^ The Herald (Melbourne) 13 January 1933, p.1
  9. ^ [3]
  10. ^ [4]
  11. ^
  12. ^ The Canberra Times, 24 October 1968, p.3
  13. ^
  14. ^ Helen Higgs, “Australian art market prices during the Global Financial Crisis and two earlier decades,” Australian Economic Papers, 51 (4) December 2012, p.192 [5]