Benalla Art Gallery recently acquired 10 paintings by Matthew James MacNally to add to the small number already held in the Gallery’s Collection. The paintings were donated by the Estate of Alison L. McInnis.
Matthew James MacNally was born in Benalla on 5 July 1873. His interest in art began seriously in the mid-1890s when moved to Sydney to work as a clerk and began taking drawing lessons. While there he became friends with several painters including Tom Roberts. In 1899 he returned to Melbourne and enrolled in the National Gallery of Victoria’s art school where he studied under Frederick McCubbin and John Mather.
MacNally became a successful businessman with demanding commitments, but despite this he dedicated significant time to watercolour painting, often travelling on painting trips to the area of Malmsbury north west of Melbourne. He established a sketch club with several friends and became immensely skilled in drawing and painting landscapes in watercolour.
MacNally was highly sociable and mixed with many of Victoria’s prominent artists, musicians, critics and connoisseurs. He became friends with Dame Nelly Melba, and in her circle mixed with important art-loving establishment figures, such as Sir Baldwin Spencer and the war-time Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson. During the final years of the war MacNally joined two professional art groups, the Melbourne-based Australian Art Association, and the all-male, Sydney-based Australian Arts Club. Both organisations had small select memberships, which included some of the most influential artists in the country. MacNally’s friendly nature, art knowledge and powerful friends soon saw him appointed, in 1918, as the Victorian representative on the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board. That same year, MacNally gained national attention with an illustrated profile in Art in Australia.
In the years following the First World War MacNally held over a dozen solo shows in Melbourne and Sydney. The popularity of his watercolours reflected his skill as well as the public interest in the medium in the early interwar period. For the following 20 years MacNally continued to paint while working as an art critic and writer for major newspapers in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide.
After a long illness the 70-year old artist died at his Mount Lofty home on Thursday 24 September 1943.
Since his death there have been two major exhibitions of his work, one at John Martin’s Art Gallery in Adelaide (1946) and a retrospective at Benalla Art Gallery (1974).
This is an edited extract from a biography of Matthew James MacNally by Silas Clifford-Smith, 2007 (updated 2011)
Source: Design & Art Australia Online http://www.daao.org.au/bio/matthew-james-macnally/