Clarice Beckett

Walking at Rosebud, 1932
Oil on board
18.0 x 22.6 cm


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Hilda Mangan (the artist's sister)
Martin Browne Fine Art, Sydney, 2002
Private collection, Sydney

'Clarice Beckett Retrospective', Realities, Melbourne 1979
'Clarice Beckett: Black Rock and Environs', Black Rock House, Melbourne
'The artist's retreat: Discoveing the Mornington Peninsula from the 1850s to the present', Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Victoria, 28 March - 30 May 1999, cat. 7 (label on reverse)
'Blue Chip III: The Collectors Exhibition', Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 27 February - 31 March 2002, cat.40 illust. P.38
'Clarice Beckett', Martin Browne Fine Art in association with Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 26 June - 21 July 2002, cat. 22, illus. p. 26

Clarice Beckett's tonal paintings of Australian suburban landscapes are shrouded in a foggy haze of muted tones. Beckett's days were filled with home duties and caring for her elderly parents, resulting in a painting routine spread over the transitional half-lit zones of dawn and dusk. These moody scenes, also reflected the influence of her teacher and mentor Max Meldrum - who along with Beckett - is now seen as Australia's greatest Tonalist. The quiet, subtle and beautiful scenes of cities, streets, and suburbs are a place of contemplation.

'Walking at Rosebud', 1932 with it's muted greens blues and nuanced pinks so delicately and evocatively capture the beachscape. The few people grouped on the sand are devoid of any detail and created with skillful brushstrokes. Interestingly, Rosebud was an area in which Arthur Boyd spent some time and informed many of his works in the 1930s.

Clarice Beckett was unrecognized and neglected as an artist in her own lifetime. It was only in the 1970s that a large rural shed in Victoria was found with some 2000 of her canvases, two thirds of which had been destroyed by the elements. She had produced landscapes from 1917 until her untimely premature death in 1935.

As Frances Lindsay claims, "When we look back at the 20th century from a vantage point in the next, certain Australian artists will stand out, not just for the aesthetic quality of their work, but also for their significant contribution to our understanding of what constitutes the Australian identity. Clarice Beckett is one such artist." ('Politically Incorrect', exhibition catalogue, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, 1999, unpaginated)

  • Walking at Rosebud

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Clarice Beckett, against all odds, is now recognised as one of Australia’s major modernist painters. Maligned by the art establishment during her life, she was close to anonymous until the 1970s, when a resurgent interest in her works finally brought the recognition she deserved. 

Born in rural Victoria in 1887, Beckett took charcoal drawing lessons as a child before enrolling in the National Gallery School in Melbourne under Frederick McCubbin. She was an early leaver of the school before the defection of Arnold Shore, Colin Colahan and others, all of whom went to learn under the tutelage of the controversial Australian Tonalist artist Max Meldrum. While Meldrum once famously deemed that “There would never be a great woman artist and there never had been”, he came to see Beckett as his star pupil. “She worked like a man”, he said in a patronising compromise. (Quoted in Rosalind Hollinrake, Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, 1999, p. 15.) 

Tonalism – with its hazy edges, pastel palette and minimal subjects – flew in the face of the predominant Heidelberg School vision of bold colours in narrative paintings. Beckett’s distinctive “blur” gave an atmosphere to all her landscapes and still lifes, recalling Whistler’s belief that paint should be “like breath on the surface of a pane of glass”. (Tracey Lock, The present moment: The art of Clarice Beckett, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2021, pp. 102-104.)

In 1924, Beckett provided a simple artist statement to explain her artistic objectives: “To give a sincere and truthful representation of a portion of the beauty of Nature, and to show the charm of light and shade, which I try and set forth in correct tones so as to give nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality." (Clarice Beckett, 20 Melbourne painters, 6th Annual Exhibition Catalogue, 1924.)

It was while painting one of her many seascapes that she caught pneumonia in 1935 and died, aged just 48. A shed containing nearly 2000 of her paintings was left abandoned, exposed to the elements. By the time they were found over thirty years later, over 1000 of them had been irreparably damaged. 

Her resurgence in the art world began in the 1970s upon the discovery of this large cache of works and a 1971 exhibition curated by Rosalind Hollinrake in Melbourne. Since then, she has received a number of major exhibitions, including Clarice Beckett: Politically Incorrect, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, Melbourne (1999); and most recently Clarice Beckett: The present moment, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2021). Her work is now held in all major public collections in Australia.