From edition

Self Portraits

A Sequence of Poems About Australian Women Artists

By Helen Cerne.

The Other Heidelberg School

1.
Fresh urgent brushstrokes
was my style.
I painted with the Heidelberg boys,
Roberts, McCubbin and Streeton,
part of the plein air movement,
they liked me but not enough to be
in their influential 9×5 show.
My work was as good,
capturing light and atmosphere
of our singular bush,
but I preferred to paint women
working in a domestic landscape:
‘The Mushroom Gatherers’,
or solitary females such as
‘Girl in a Paddock’,
or children,
not lost–McCubbin sentimental,
just kids paddling in ‘The Pool’
wagging school.
I never got the same money
but I sold.
The most I requested was 21 pounds
while the blokes bolder, got threefold,
some asked for 200 guineas or more!

Whatever happened to her they ask?
My final urgent brush or stroke
finished my art at fifty,
I died broke, restricted to the house.
They say my women are faceless,

I wonder why?
Jane Sutherland 1855-1928

2.
I did my bit
but no-one painted me.
I painted them,
and minded their children,
as a live-in governess
to the McCubbins
to make ends meet.
I painted the moon and the stars,
and light on landscape
with a high horizon line –
gum blossomed Kallista,
sparkling Sydney Heads,
and ‘Spring Clouds’ ever changing.
I worked with artists’ societies,
exhibited well,
and I was a theosophist,
followed Annie Besant,
now dismissed as a past fad
with all that spiritual cant,
overlooked by the lads.
I wrote and believed,
‘Art is a matter of life and death
for the building of a nation.
Australia cannot do without it.’
Dead at 88, history did without me,
but I never doubted
I did my bit.

Jane Price 1860-1948

3.
They called me ‘panther.’
I was a tall lithe girl,
some said a beauty,
with red fiery hair,
ready to catch aflame.
‘The most prominent
female landscape artist in Melbourne,’
the Argus said.
I belonged to everything:
The Victorian Artist’s Society,
The Lyceum Club,
and that Melbourne hub of
‘Women Painters and Sculptors.’
Yes so bright they said I blazed
in the combustible creation
of the 1890s burgeoning nation.
The first woman elected to the
Australian Artists Association.
I shared a studio with the two Janes,
and similar views;
on life, land and love but not class;
you see I was the daughter
of a saw-miller,
I too painted plein air works:
‘The Cabbage Patch’
and women in the bush –
a hive of industry;
‘An Old Bee Farm’ and ‘A Country Washhouse.’
At 45 too old to conceive
I married a good man, a miner
but my true love was Warrandyte.
Nothing finer than ‘Blythe Bank,’
where we settled on the north hill
overlooking the Yarra.
‘Evensong’ captured
the still spirit of place.
Around me gathered young painters –
a community space for artists.
Wealthy locals bought my works…
but then devastation–
the1939 bush fires burnt
much of my life’s creation.
I died soon after,
a final irony –
I was cremated,

Clara Southern 1860-1940

Another View

1.
My pastels of beautiful women,
naked nubile girls,
referenced traditions associated
with the female –
ballet, fairies, flowers, dolls,
nostalgia, china painting,
women in performance.
Male critics noted
my ‘lack of eroticism,’
my ‘reticence’,
as compared to the raunchy masculine
validated vision of Lindsay.
They could not imagine
what a woman could feel,
for another female,
could not conceive the ‘other ‘ way of seeing’ –
nor envisage
the transformative glamour of costume,
the cultural power of female identity;
nor the legitimate gaze of a lesbian.

Janet Cumbrae Stewart 1883-1960

2.
How could they keep me down
on the farm after I saw Paree?
I lived in the Rue de l’Odeon
in the Latin Quarter
with my muse and inspiration
‘Cherry’ on top
of all the portraits
of women I ever painted;
rich decorative studies,
and strong personalities.
Yes even commissioned to paint Mussolini!
And I painted Sunday Reed,
then Mrs Leonard Quinn,
the portrait’s now missing.
Yes well known in Europe
but back on the farm
I’m only seen in regional galleries
or as a footnote
in Heide’s history.
Agnes Goodsir 1864-1939

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