In the studio
Vida Lahey, Australia 1882-1968 | Monday morning 1912 | Oil on canvas | Gift of Madame Emily Coungeau through the Queensland Art Society 1912 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
AME Bale, Australia 1875–1955 | Leisure moments 1902 | Oil on canvas | Purchased 1973 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
Installation view featuring George W Lambert's Kitty Powell 1909 and Queensland Parlour setting c.1880-90s
Currently on display | Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries | Queensland Art Gallery (QAG)
The studio, arguably, is the centre of the artist’s working life and, by the late nineteenth century, it was the site of many forms of artistic practice. It was a place for socialising as well as working, and was often decorated accordingly. For example, the studio in Girolamo Nerli’s The sitting 1889 is fitted out in the ‘orientalist’ theme, popular in the 1880s; and in AME Bale’s Leisure moments 1902, it is decorated with the artist’s own Chinese ornaments. Young artists painted friends and family members in convivial studios like these while establishing their professional reputations.
Domestic scenes, such as AME Bale’s Leisure moments or Vida Lahey’s Monday morning 1912, revealed that the great interest in contemporary life and everyday subjects coexisted with the importance of historical and allegorical narratives found in academic and symbolist art. While Lahey’s work was not actually painted in the studio – the canvas was strapped to the mangle in the laundry – it follows the tradition of studio painting taught at institutions such as Melbourne’s National Gallery School, where Bale, and later Lahey, studied under Frederick McCubbin.
The scale of these paintings reflects the continued emphasis on the competition or salon piece in the early twentieth century. Bale created her canvas for the National Gallery School’s Travelling Scholarship (1902), while Lahey’s was shown at the Queensland Art Society (1912) and Rupert Bunny’s at the New Salon in Paris (1906).
While plein-air painting was one of the most significant developments in nineteenth-century art – and many artists whose work is displayed here painted outdoors on small portable canvases or panels – it was in the studio that artists were trained.
Vida Lahey Monday morning 1912
Monday morning launched Vida Lahey's career when it was exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Queensland Art Society, Brisbane, in 1912. This painting is an outstanding work by a young artist and remains Lahey's only surviving large-scale work of the period.
The painting shows two women doing the weekly wash with copper, tubs and bar soap ― once a common sight in Australian households. It is a rare subject in Australian art; women's lives were generally depicted in a more genteel fashion and the acknowledgment of such hard labour was avoided. Esme, a younger sister of the artist, was the model for the woman at the washtub. She is shown with Flora Campbell, a family friend, doing the washing at the Lahey family home, Greylands, in Indooroopilly, Brisbane.
Monday morning follows the tradition established at the National Gallery of Victoria School, Melbourne, where students were encouraged to produce a large narrative painting to compete for the triennial travelling art scholarship.
Before washing machines, the weekly wash was always done on Monday mornings. Now we have machines to do this hard work for us any time we like. Here, Vida Lahey is celebrating the hard work of women, and has painted her sister and Flora, their family friend. Can you name some of the other convenient appliances you have around your house?
AME Bale Leisure moments 1902
In Leisure moments, AME Bale follows the tradition of students of the National Gallery School, Melbourne, in producing a large narrative painting. The painting represents the newly acquired independence of Australian women, but it is also an intimate portrayal of the artist’s lifestyle. It very probably depicts Bale’s own studio ― the artist may be the figure wearing a painting smock in the centre of the composition. The seated figure reading has been identified as Violet Bowes-Kelly, a fellow student.
Although the work depicts a bowl of flowers and a decorative vase, we see no evidence of the domestic felicities such as sewing or tending children that were often the subject of paintings at the time. These women, who are seemingly oblivious to the viewer, are positioned as educated, cultured women. Three books are incorporated into the painting, and a paint brush, representing the women’s vocation, is casually discarded on the floor.
The artist is trying to tell us that the women in this painting are modern and independent. We can tell this as two of them are reading, and the woman closest to us is wearing a large purple painting smock and has dropped one of her brushes on the floor. This work was made at a time when it was still unusual for women to choose painting as a serious profession, or to gain much formal higher education, even to go to high school. It was more common to see paintings of women sewing or looking after children. When you come to the Gallery, have a look at the paintings in this room and see what some of the other women are doing in the paintings. Can you see some other women working hard? How about relaxing?
The Queensland Art Gallery houses a significant collection of Australian paintings, sculptures, decorative art objects, and works on paper. Find more information on these selected Collection highlights | Indigenous Australian Art | Queensland Heritage | Australian Art to 1975
Search the Gallery's Collection online for works by Vida Lahey, AME Bale, Josephine Muntz-Adams, Girolamo Nerli, George W Lambert, Rupert Bunny, Hugh Ramsay and E Phillips Fox | Collection Search