Friday, September 04, 2015

Musings on Thea Proctor

My Armidale Express history revisited columns this and next week are on the Australian artist Thea Proctor.

Thea Proctor was born in Armidale on 2 October 1879, the oldest child of William and Kathleen Proctor. Her father was a lawyer who was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly in December 1880 as Member for New England, a position he was to hold until January 1887.

The portrait is by an unknown artist. It was painted in 1896, the year the seventeen year old Thea enrolled at Julian Ashton's arts school.

I originally became interested in Thea in part because of the Armidale connection, in part because I was then buying Australian art.  My collection included one of her line drawings.

Over the last twelve months, my train reading has carried me through aspects of Australian and European cultural life in the period up to and after the first World War. One aspect of that has been the role of and complexities faced by female artists who also wanted human relationships.

In her book, Stravinsky's Lunch (2001), the Australian writer Drusilla Modjeska explores the life of the Australian painters Stella Bowen and Grace Cossington Smith. The book, written from a feminist perspective, explores the nature of choice. This is especially true for Stella Bowen and her relationship with the writer Ford Madox Ford.

 The English artist Dora Carrington was considerably younger than Thea Proctor, although they shared some common experiences of studying art in London, if separated by time. Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina's biography of Carrington (1989) again draws out the nature of complexity in relationships, as well as the way that gender stereotyping affected Carrington's choice in artistic endeavour with a bias towards the craft and domestic.
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Looking at Thea Proctor, I wondered to what extent her problematic relationship with the Australian painter George Lambert affected (limited) her work.This self portrait of Lambert dates to c1906. He seems to me to be a little smug, self-satisfied.

Thea first met Lambert at the Julian Ashton Art School, following him to London in 1903.There she studied with him
and often sat for him. This Lambert portrait of Thea dates from 1905.

I do not pretend to understand the nature of the relationship between Proctor and Lambert, nor between Proctor and Lambert's wife Amy. I do feel, and this may be be no more than prejudice, that the relationship with Lambert may have limited Proctor's own career potential.

In this context, I wondered too to what extent gender roles and perceptions mat have affected Proctor's own choices of subject and style. I base this on no more than Gerzina's picture of art student life in London and the subsequent reactions of the Bloomsbury set to Carrington. Women could be artists indeed, but with a bias towards design and crafts.

Thea Proctor died at Potts Point in Sydney on 29 July 1966. She left behind her a considerable body of work, as well as a record of assisting younger artists. She retained her beauty to the end.   .

Postscript

A comment from Jude, aka JC, aka JCW took me back to my art collecting days. This is a piece that Judi bought at the time. It's called Reverie, c1919, one of thirty.

7 comments:

Winton Bates said...

Thea looks lovely. But how do you know she retained her beauty to the end?

Jim Belshaw said...

Good question Winton. Source http://www.portrait.gov.au/exhibitions/the-world-of-thea-proctor-2005

marcellous said...

That first picture looks more like a photo than a painting to me, J.

Winton Bates said...

Jim,
Thanks. I will accept the word of Barry Humphries on this question.

Anonymous said...

Remember 'Reverie'? Mum did not let me have it back until she left Stockton. It remains one of my favourite pieces (and most valuable, which surprised me). I don't collect anymore, because I have run out of wall space, and we have already extended twice! However, if I could get my hands on one of her cats at a reasonable price...
Happy travelling
Jude

Jim Belshaw said...

It does, doesn't it m? Haven't had time to go back and check. It wasn't listed as a photo. I do remember Reverie, Jude. There appear to be several. It was fun going around the galleries.

Jim Belshaw said...

From an edition of thirty. So we have you and the galleries!