Menzies Art Brands

Women Artists


A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (reprinted in The Australian Newspaper and online examines the current increased interest from collectors in art by women. In New York and London collectors are paying a premium for the work of Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell and other recent and contemporary artists, redressing a perceived long standing imbalance.

Comparing the prices, let alone the art of women from earlier periods is not as easy, since very few women were artists until the late 19th century. Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt are regarded as fully fledged Impressionists, but before that women who competed in this masculine arena are a rare phenomenon, and are seen as a curiosity rather than for actual merit or art historical importance.

In Australia women dominated art for a significant period between the world wars. Tom Roberts, Streeton, McCubbin and Bunny were successful, had broken new ground and were now safe, and by the end of the first world war, historically irrelevant.  During the period the best paintings were done by Margaret Preston, Clarice Beckett, Grace Cossington Smith, Ethel Carrick Fox, Bessie Davidson, Ethel Spowers, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Lina Bryans, Vida Lahey, Stella Bowen, Dorrit Black, Olive Cotton, Dora Wilson, Janet Cumbrae-Stewart, Isö Rae, Ellis Rowan, Joy Hester, etc. This is a selection from a very distinguished list of names. Male artists of the same period are either stuck in their ways or in short pants. George Bell, Ian Fairweather (a visitor), Roy de Maistre and Roland Wakelin are the only men of any interest who painted between the last of the Edwardians and the advent of Russell Drysdale.

Spowers has an international reputation, while Preston holds a record price for an Australian Print at auction. With the exception of Streeton, the highest recorded price paid for any Australian painting created from the end of the First World War to the beginning of the Second World War (1918-1939) is held by Grace Cossington Smith for her Centre of a City, painted in 1925andsold in 2002 for $348,000.

At Menzies June 2013 sale, we offered Grace Cossington Smith’s oil Wildflowers in Jug c 1944-47, which sold for $76,091 (inc. BP), Isö Rae’s small conté Zozo et la Rose (illustrated) $3,191 (inc. BP) and Janet Cumbrae-Stewart’s pastel Simplicity 1920 $4,173 (inc. BP).


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