Clara Southern (1860 – 1940)

the artist's home edit

The artist’s home c.1909 belongs to a period of Clara Southern’s work when she was being hailed as one of Victoria’s leading artists. It was produced following her relocation from Melbourne to Warrandyte, a place where she was to live and work for the rest of her life.

The painting depicts the cottage, detached studio and associated outbuildings called ‘Blythe Bank’ that were situated on ‘The Hill’ above the Yarra River along the Research-Warrandyte Road. ‘Blythe Bank’ was built by Southern and her miner husband John Flynn in 1905 to overlook the township of Warrandyte. Cruelly, it survived the dreadful Eltham bushfires of 1939 only to be burnt down several years later, along with a cache of artworks.

Although known as The artist’s home there is no actual primary evidence or contemporary exhibition notices to support this title. Following the artist’s death, in 1940, the work passed through Southern’s family before being presented for auction in 1983. It was at this time that the work was most likely given the present title. A second work entitled The artist’s garden c.1909 was also sold through the family two years later, in 1985, and this also appears to bear a later title.

Exhibition records provide a valuable record of Southern’s surviving work and what she preferred them to be called. In her important survey exhibition of 79 paintings held at the Athenaeum Hall Gallery, Collins Street, Melbourne, in 1914, a mixture of descriptive and poetic titles was used. The major works often had more imaginative titles such as The Bee Farm, A symphony, Bend of the river, The living and the dead, Silver saplings, The south side and Evensong.

Southern’s lyrical approach to Australian bush scenes and the Warrandyte countryside are clearly apparent in this work. It is painted in a mixture of soft greens, yellows, russet and grey revealing how she avoided the heat and blinding light of the noonday sun, favoured by contemporaries such as Arthur Streeton, for quieter and more introspective moods of nature. Like her fellow women artists, she preferred a more domesticated bush to one populated by male heroics.

Clara Southern received her early training from Madame Blanche Mouchette, a painter, schoolmistress and founder of the Alliance Francaise in Victoria. Between 1883 and 1885, Southern attended lessons in the School of Design, National Gallery of Victoria, and in the second half of 1886 and in 1887, Southern was enrolled in the School of Painting at the National Gallery of Victoria. She also took lessons from the renowned Impressionist painter Walter Withers and is known to have visited him regularly at his home in Heidelberg, developing a lifelong friendship with the artist and his family.

Clara Southern went on to become one of Australia’s leading Impressionist artists. With her warm and gregarious personality, she was the catalyst behind Warrandyte becoming known for its vibrant artistic community. Southern was a pioneer in equal opportunity for women. During the 1880s and 1890s she regularly accompanied her male colleagues on sketching trips to Heidelberg and Eaglemont. Showing a determination to succeed, Southern gained membership of the male dominated Buonarotti Society and the Australian Artists’ Association, where she was the first woman to serve as a member of its committee. From 1902-06 she was elected a member of the Council of the Victorian Artists Society, ‘once again’, in the words of art historian Andrew Mackenzie, ‘displaying her interest in protecting and enhancing the professional rights of women artists.’

Rodney James

Sources:
Anne Duke, ‘Southern, Clara (1860–1940)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/southern-clara-8590/text14999, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 16 January 2019
Andrew Mackenzie, https://www.artistsfootsteps.com/html/Southern_biography.htm

Image above: Clara Southern, The artist’s home c.1909
Oil on canvas
53.0 x 110.4 cm
Benalla art gallery collection. Ledger Gift, 1984

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s