lived in Europe 1904-07, 1912-19
oil on canvas
77.3 x 58.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased with the assistance of the Cooma-Monaro Snowy River Fund, 1988
© Margaret Preston Estate.
Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia
“Colour is an extravagance of the mind. Colour is the emblem of change.”
Margaret Preston (1875-1963) is one of Australia’s most innovative early modernists and one of our most celebrated artists.
In the first major retrospective of Margaret Preston’s work, more than 100 of her commanding compositions have been brought together with her prints, pottery, textiles, photographs and documents.
Bold, cosmopolitan and intensely coloured, her paintings and prints, predominately of still life subjects, particularised a moment of extraordinary innovation in Australian art history.
NGV Director, Dr Gerard Vaughan, says: “Independent, ambitious, opinionated and exceptionally talented, Margaret Preston was at the forefront of Australian art, producing a body of work with a unique vision that championed a distinctive nationalistic approach.
“Her art achieved that very delicate balance of appealing to the wider public as well as to her fellow artists. Through this retrospective audiences will be able to understand her full impact on the Australian art scene.”
Born in 1875, Preston moved to Melbourne in 1893 where she studied at the National Gallery of Victoria School of Arts under the painter Fredrick McCubbin and the then Director, Bernard Hall.
In 1904 she travelled to Europe where she actively sought out the work of Europe’s influential modern painters. It was during this time following exposure to works by artists such as Matisse, van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and Whistler, and the influences of oriental aesthetics, that Preston developed a ‘decorative’ style that she would carry through her entire oeuvre.
Even through she travelled widely throughout Europe and Asia, Margaret Preston strongly advocated a national style that was distinctive and reflective of Australian culture. “Art is the tangible symbol of the spirit of a country” (Margaret Preston 1927).
Central to Margaret Preston’s distinctive Australian style were Chinese and Japanese influences along with the techniques and motifs of Australian Aboriginal art.
From the 1920s through to her death in 1963 – a period when Aboriginal art received little public attention – Margaret Preston became one its most committed advocates. Her use of Aboriginal iconography and imagery has caused much discussion and criticism.