Ada May Plante (1875-1950)

Ada May Plante

A perfectionist, shy and intensely private, Ada Plante painted slowly and lived very quietly on a small inherited income. Although she had attracted recognition as a student and young artist, her work remained relatively unknown. She initially experimented with impressionism but over time she became more interested in Post Impressionism, characterised by the use of simplified colors and definitive forms as well as abstract tendencies. In the last twenty years of her life she earned the admiration of fellow artists  William Frater, Lina Bryans, and artist and Age critic Arnold Shore.

Among a select group, she was called one of the best artists of the period. Shore praised her telling portraits ‘charged with a sensitive perception of character’. Her work was carefully constructed to give lightness and harmony to complex analyses of form and colour, offset with seemingly casual strokes of pure colour.

Ada May Plante was born on 4 October 1875, at Temuka, New Zealand. She moved with her family to Australia in 1888 and settled in Melbourne. Plante studied at the Victorian National Gallery schools in 1894-99, under Bernard Hall and Frederick McCubbin, winning prizes for drawing in 1894, 1895 and 1896, and first place for still-life painting in 1898. Her contemporaries were George Bell, Margaret Preston, Hugh Ramsay and Max Meldrum.

Plante exhibited with the Victorian Artists’ Society in 1901 before going to London and Paris, where she studied at the Académie Julian from 1902 to 1904. After returning home she showed her French paintings in the V.A.S. 1905 winter exhibition. In the First Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work, Melbourne, 1907, Ada Plante won prizes for portrait and figure painting. She was a member of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors. In the 1920s she lived in a house at East Melbourne which she and her sister Mary Agnes rented to tenants including Adrian Lawlor, a champion of modernism and a lifelong friend and admirer of her art. In the mid-1920s she met William Frater, who introduced her to the paintings of Cézanne, Van Gogh and Post-Impressionism and painted with her in the city studio she shared with Isabel Tweddle and Mary Meyer. In 1932 she was one of the founding exhibitors of the pioneering Post-Impressionist Melbourne Contemporary Group, whose members included Bell, Arnold Shore, Frater, Tweddle and Lawlor.

In 1935 Plante moved to Darebin Bridge House, Ivanhoe, where other artists, Ambrose Hallen and Lina Bryans, later came to live and where Frater often painted. She had her only solo exhibition at George’s Gallery in 1945. She died on 3 July 1950 at Armadale and was cremated. A memorial exhibition was held at the Stanley Coe Gallery, Melbourne, in 1951. She is represented in the major Australian galleries.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography

Image:  Ada May Plante, Railway Bridge, Darebin not dated
Oil on canvas on composition board
Benalla Art Gallery Collection. Ledger Gift 1987

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