It is relatively easy to misread the history of artistic modernism in Australia. Glance at a handful of key sources, and they all seem to tell the story of a battle: in the years between the two world wars the Australian art establishment was run by a band of big bad traditionalists--art historian Bernard Smith likens them to the priests of Leviticus--who were at first irritated and later seriously threatened by a bunch of critical young innovators. The story of the emergence of modern art in Australia seems to be about the victory of the innovators. It is something of an historical trope that 'it is the victors who write history'. (1) Four key art histories in one way or another present this story of victory: Australian Painting by Bernard Smith; Rebels and Precursors by Richard Haese; The Innovators by Geoffrey Dutton; and The Black Swan of Trespass by Humphrey McQueen. (2) In the victory story, women modernists appear as marginal.
Bernard Smith used the descriptive periodisations of Genesis and Exodus in his earliest contribution to Australian art history, Place, Taste and Tradition (1944). Borrowing the terms from William Moore's The Story of Australian Art (1934), Smith applied Genesis to his discussion of the years prior to 1900, and Exodus to the years thereafter. In the book, Australian Painting, first published in 1962, Smith expanded on the Genesis-Exodus model, naming the 1920s 'the Leviticus'. He argued that after the first world war 'the old men of the tribe, their years of exile over, began to lay down the law for the guidance of the young'. (3) Their chief objective entailed the protection of the health, sanity and vitality of Australian art from the 'madness' of Europe. The Leviticus in this case consisted of the matured male bohemian contemporaries and admirers of the plein-airists of the Heidelberg era. In their day the Heidelberg painters were regarded as innovative and modern. But many of the Leviticans were in fact black and white artists or realists who mellowed with time and eventually became art critics, publishers, and trustees. They spoke of an Australian nationalist landscape tradition, and pointed to the hazy landscapes of Arthur Streeton and the gum trees of Hans Heysen as prime examples. (4)
The law-making of Leviticus coincided with the emergence in Sydney of a small group of artists who, following European trends, experimented with a range of stylistic and technical innovations collectively thought of by many as modern art. Norah Simpson, a student under the Italian painter Dattilo Rubbo, returned from Europe in 1913 with some reproductions and print material that inspired fellow students Roland Wakelin, Grace Cossington Smith and Roy de Maistre to privately experiment with post-impressionist ideas over the next few years. Cossington Smith (5) and Wakelin first exhibited products of this new direction in the Royal Art Society exhibition in 1915. By the 1920s, a few more artists had begun to experiment with modern aesthetic ideas, many women among them. Bernard Smith observed the prominence of women in the introduction of post-impressionism and in the evolution of 'liberal and progressive thought in the arts'. (6) Feminists have hotly contested his explanation that this occurred because the first world war drained masculine creativity. Whatever the reason, in 1926, Thea Proctor and George Lambert formed the Sydney Contemporary Group with a large proportion of modernist women artists. Grace Crowley and Dorrit Black opened the Modern Art Centre in 1932. In the same year Melbourne art teachers George Bell and Arnold Shore formed a Melbourne Contemporary Group.
In the political and economic uncertainty of the early 1930s, the modernist movement gained sufficient scale in numbers, as well as enthusiastic support, to provoke the established priests of the Leviticus, and those educated in the laws of Leviticus, to belligerence. By the late 1930s these tensions erupted in a series of crises in the Melbourne and Sydney art worlds. They revolved around what appeared to be a dichotomous relationship between ideologically and artistically conservative forces and aesthetically modern, politically radical ones. The moments of greatest interest to art historians include the formation of the Academy of Australian Art in 1937 and the subsequent founding of the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) in 1938; a series of challenges to the authority of the conservative art establishment in Sydney in the early 1940s; and the award of the 1943 Archibald Prize to William Dobell. Following descriptions of these moments of conflict between conservatives and radicals, Haese and Smith show that the modernist debates turned inward, with advocates of a moderate liberal modernism in Melbourne staging a mass walk-out from the Melbourne CAS in mid-1940 as the avant garde responded to influences from abroad and ideologically drifted further to the left.
Much of the victory story is framed in terms of a battle, and makes for an entertaining narrative, but the polemic-driven historical accounts can be misleading. When Robert Menzies proposed the formation of an Australian Academy of Art, Melbourne modernists were concerned that their attempted departure from conventional artistic practice would be marginalised. Their fears were apparently confirmed when Menzies opened the Victorian Artists' Society exhibition in April 1937 and singled out for attack a wall of modernist paintings. (7) A debate ensued in the press: Adrian Lawlor compiled the resulting copy in a booklet entitled Arquebus. Leaders of the modernist group, including Lawlor, George Bell, John Reed and Peter Bellew, among others, formed the Contemporary Art Society the following year. (8) Bernard Smith, Richard Haese and Humphrey McQueen all point to Menzies as the protagonist, McQueen referring, in particularly war-like terms, to Menzies's 'marshalling of traditional forces'. (9) If Menzies appears as the general of the conservative camp, Herbert Vere Evatt appears as a soldier dashing into the fray in support of the modernist camp. While his wife, Mary Alice Evatt, learned modernist techniques at Bell's art school, the former NSW Labor MP became involved as an approving observer and occasional public advocate. At an exhibition opening in June 1937 Evatt urged Australian galleries to show more modern paintings. (10) He drew a strong rejoinder from James MacDonald, a cultural conservative who had served as art director in New South Wales before moving to the National Gallery of Victoria--Australian art galleries simply did not like modern art, and it should not be hung in public at all. (11) Many sources appear to have accepted Evatt's centrality to the story of the formation of the Victorian CAS, partly on the basis of the later political battles in which Evatt and Menzies were engaged. (12)
As Smith and Haese fleetingly acknowledge, there is more to the story of the formation of the Contemporary Art Society. The Academy of Australian Art did not represent a solid block of conservative artists united in their disapproval of modernism. (13) Menzies might appear as the protagonist, but it is possible that Bell and his students and supporters deliberately provoked Menzies. In March 1937 Bell led an anti-Academy vote in the Victorian Artists' Society (VAS) on the grounds that the Academy would recognise only a limited range of artistic practices. (14) Was it coincidence that modernist exhibition entries were on prominent display when Menzies condemned modernism in art at the opening of the VAS exhibition a month later? Also, Evatt may have endorsed and approved the formation of the CAS, but he was abroad for most of 1938 and not a central participant in the process. His speech at the first CAS exhibition, opening in June 1939, may have echoed the polemic of the debates in places, but the parts that the press did not remark on suggest that some views on art and culture were shared by modernists and conservatives alike. (15) Evatt's comments merge with the records of the battle and reinforce the impression of spirited conviction on both sides of a cultural-political divide. The point of particular importance is that the linking of art to politics frames the story in terms of male power struggles.
The Evatts reappear in the Sydney story of the clash of modernists and anti-modernists. Art historical accounts of the Sydney story draw on rich anti-labour, anti-semitic, anti-modernist polemic, with the result of sketching neat divides that were more complex in reality. In particular, the art histories draw on the writings of Lionel Lindsay, member of the board of trustees of the National [sic] Art Gallery of New South Wales. The main confrontations centred on the public display of an exhibition of French and British modern art from late 1939, the award of the 1943 Archibald Prize to William Dobell, and the nomination of modernist sympathisers, first Mary Alice Evatt and later the communist Peter Bellew, to positions on the board of trustees. Lindsay and other trustees complained to each other, to James Macdonald in Melbourne, and to a politically embattled Robert Menzies, over the travesties being wrought in the name of art, and the criticisms levelled at them by Peter Bellew and the Fairfax press, for whom Bellew worked at the time. (16) Lindsay drew dotted lines between Bellew, H V Evatt, his brother, Clive Evatt (a NSW Member of Parliament) and Mary Alice Evatt. (17) Both Geoffrey Dutton and Richard Haese draw on Lindsay's rhetoric and assertions. Haese also appears to assume a degree of co-ordination founded on the Lindsayan notion of CAS-Sydney Morning Herald conspiracies in which the Evatts were believed to play a role. (18) It is risky to rely too heavily on Lionel Lindsay's polemic. The battlelines were neither so distinct, nor the modern camp so formidable. The Evatts appear to have been reluctant to even associate with Peter Bellew, let alone collude with him. (19) There is no evidence in either the Evatt Foundation or other manuscript collections to suggest that a united modernist front of the type described by Lindsay actually existed. Further, in the context of the contested award of the Archibald Prize to William Dobell, Lindsay and Mary Alice Evatt found agreement. The trustees had chosen Dobell's Joshua Smith at Lionel Lindsay's suggestion, with Mary Alice Evatt's support. (20) Lindsay privately explained to Sydney Ure Smith that he approved of certain modernist artists, including Dobell. (21)
Once again Mary Alice Evatt's role in the Sydney controversies, and in the struggle for the acceptance of modernism by the art establishment, is tied to the cultural-political battlelines that attracted historical attention in the 1970s and '80s. The victory stories tell us more about specific links that were made by male artists, critics and observers between culture and politics in the late 1930s and 1940s than they do about modernism itself. They tell us little about the relationship between women and the modernist assault on the art establishment.
Another version of the story concerning the introduction of modern art to Australia and the struggle of its proponents to find acceptance on the part of the establishment exists. It is an entirely different story, and looks at different moments of rise and fall. It is not a story about victors; it is a story that comes close to calling the modernists victims. It is the story of modernist women artists.
The idea that women artists were linked to a widely recognisable, design-oriented modernism in the 1920s has been discussed by feminist and cultural historians for the past quarter-century. Mary Eagle first began writing on the subject of modernism in Sydney in the 1970s. In her Australian Modern Painting Between the Wars, 1914-1939 she reports on the connections drawn by observers of the 1920s and '30s between women, art, design, fashion and commerce without attempting to analyse the role of women modernists. (22) Other feminist art histories have come closer to outlining and attempting to explain the apparent marginalisation of Australia women modernists in the interwar period. Janine Burke was the first to insert women artists in the story of Australian art, explaining the greater number of visible women artists--such as Norah Simpson, Grace Cossington Smith, Margaret Preston, Thea Proctor, Grace Crowley and Dorrit Black--practicing in the 1920s in terms of feminist radicalism, the 'new woman', and four decades of improved access to education. She does not, however, directly examine the subject of women and modernism. (23) Caroline Ambrus considers the connections between women and modernism in art in the context of a more general study of Australian women artists. Like Eagle she argues that women artists practiced a commercially appealing, design-oriented modernism in the 1920s, and that the establishment quickly dismissed such artistic practice as decorative and frivolous. (24) The depression undermined their commercial base, and they were sidelined by a generation of chauvinist male modernists in the 1930s, the men engaged in the cultural-political battles discussed earlier. While Ambrus's account relies on a survey of the art criticism, particularly that of Lionel Lindsay, his co-trustees and James Macdonald, on which the victory stories also rely, she also includes responses made by the women whose artwork was trivialised by the establishment. She quotes Thea Proctor, who sought to reframe the terms of criticism: the accepted Australian landscape artist held up as exemplary by the conservatives in fact pandered to 'popular' tastes and compromised the evolutionary artistic process. (25) Proctor was not the only one to observe the commercialism of landscape painting, and later art historians also noted that the Australian landscape tradition deliberately appealed to urban middle-class tastes. (26) Proctor's comments reveal that women modernists contested the basis on which the conservatives dismissed them; although marginalised, women artists were not passive victims.
Further attempts are made to tease out the complexities of the subject of women and artistic modernism in two collections of essays published in 1994, Wallflowers and Witches: women and culture in Australia 1910-1945, and Strange Women: Essays in art and gender. Most contributors reiterate the notion that in the 1920s fashionably modern women artists were marginalised on the grounds of frivolity or amateurism. Jeannette Hoorn lays the blame for this, firstly, on an art establishment that she describes as fascist and, secondly, echoing Ambrus, on later male avant gardists. (27) Caroline Jordan instead attributes responsibility for representation of 'Modernism as a marginal, decorative, feminine practice' to a moderately modernist art press. (28) Both authors thus contribute to historical understanding of the exclusionary process, but add little to our understanding of female cultural agency. Two chapters in Wallflowers and Witches develop closer analyses of the relationship between modernist women artists of the 1920s and the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Mary Mackay looks at Thea Proctor's agency in constructing images of the 'modern woman' and Lionel Lindsay's rejection of that image and its principle creator. (29) Pam James examines the board of trustee's acquisition policies and the way that those policies led the board to seek decorated fans rather than paintings from Thea Proctor. (30) Both authors interrogate the processes contributing to the limited recognition of the modernist work of women artists of the 1920s and '30s. They also confirm the agency of Thea Proctor. However, in these accounts the art establishment continually frustrates her endeavours. Whether the process is analysed in political, institutional or individual terms, the result is the same: the women modernists remain locked in marginality.
This impression is reinforced in the first book-length study of Australian women and modernism in art. In Modernism and Feminism: Australian Women Artists 1900-1940 (1996) Helen Topliss is more even in her coverage of modernist developments than the earlier studies, including the arts and crafts, and engaging at a more conceptual level with the notion of the exclusion of women artists from the mainstream in the period 1900-1940. Although Topliss sets out to find a 'space for women's artistic production', that space also appears to have been on the margins. Women artists practiced forms of modernism that male art critics and historians either did not recognise, dismissed as decorative and inferior, or compared to definitions of modernism that were founded on male art practice. (31) Yet women artists were not victims Topliss insists; they were 'active agents in an historical process'. (32) Topliss problematises the masculinist histories that seemed to have created the 'binary opposition of male versus female and periphery versus the centre' (33) and disrupts the 'accepted cultural hierarchies' (34) through closer study of specific women artists such as Margaret Preston, Dorrit Black and Thea Proctor. Using such strategies, she thus elaborates on ideas first proposed by Janine Burke, arguing that women artists acted on new notions of their rights and roles resulting from the women's movement of the late nineteenth century. They demonstrated the independence of the new woman by travelling abroad to pursue an interest in art. They saw themselves as professional artists and sought formal education in artistic techniques, either in the same Australian art schools as their male counterparts, or in London or Paris. Certainly, Topliss demonstrates the claim of women artists of the period to consideration as active participants in the story of artistic modernism in Australia.
Topliss might problematise, but her intent is to 'disrupt', not to rewrite, the received stories of modernism in Australia. Victims they were not, but the space her women occupied was still on the margins. A re-evaluation of the term 'modernism' may make more sense of the received victory and victim stories of Australian modern art, and begin to explain the relationships between women and modernism.
As with many artistic and cultural movements, historians experience difficulty in establishing an accurate chronology, reliable definitions and the characteristic features of modernism. In general, the term is used in a collective manner to refer to a roughly defined set of innovative practices in the arts, sciences and social thought, a usage that, for the moment, will be employed here. Janet Wolff suggests that most writers agree on 1890-1930 as the main period in which modernism flourished in Europe. Yet writers have variously proposed that the earliest signs appeared before the French revolution, that the 1930s represented the high point of modernism, that the period immediately following the second world war represented its high point, or that the characteristics of modernism continue into the present, even if in a mainstream, capitalised version. (35) Of course, the separation between modernism and postmodernism is likewise subject to debate. (36)
Modernism may be described as a series of discursive artistic and creative responses to the changing nature of modernity. Yet, as Janet Wolff observes, citing Raymond Williams, 'describing modernity in art or literature' in itself 'does not constitute modernism'. (37) My purpose here is to outline an interactive process through which modernists commented on and responded to modernity as they experienced or perceived it, thereby contributing to what modernity became, even if not as intended. First, it is necessary to consider the key features of modernist responses to modernity.
Geoffrey Dutton refers to an 1830 definition of modernism as 'sympathy for what is modern', (38) but sympathy is not the right word for what emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century in Europe. Embedded in modernism is a sense of ambivalence concerning the reality of late nineteenth-century and twentieth-century society and politics. (39) While some creative intellectuals may have revelled in 'the modern', others were deeply troubled by it. In writing on the metaphysics of modernism, Michael Bell captures the anxiety that the spectre of modernity evoked in some, in his discussion of the 'collapse of idealism'. (40) It appears that anxiety, anti-modern loathing, racial suprematism, and fascist inclinations on the one hand and the open embrace of urbanisation, mass production, and new aesthetic, scientific and social possibilities, on the other, may both be regarded as characteristic of modernism. (41) Bernard Bergonzi differentiates between responses by imposing a chronologically driven terminology: 'modern' referred to the pre-1914 'wave of innovation and transformation' across the arts in Europe characterised by artistic alienation, subjectivity, and the rejection of modernity, while 'contemporary' referred to receptivity and reformism as a strategy to sanitise, rather than resist, modernity. (42) The first world war may have intensified reactions to modernity, but for that reason the chronological split between negativity and positivity is not so clear. For many, this cataclysmic experience of modernity was a negative one. Further, it seems appropriate to think in terms of a mixed responsiveness to modernity. Individuals simultaneously expressed apparently opposing strains of modernism or shifted in their modernism over time. The obsession with the new, in Sara Blair's words, 'could simultaneously mean the open embrace of modernity's opportunities and the defensive rejection of its challenges'. (43)
In Australia, the notion of a chronological split is also problematic due to cultural lag. While signs of modernity were widely apparent in Australia by 1913, modernism was something that the highly literate public only knew about through newspaper reportage on European developments. (44) Modernism, in both its negative and positive strains, came late to Australia. It was only during the first world war that artistic modernism emerged in Australia, and in the wake of the war that the Lindsay brothers, state libraries and galleries and most newspaper critics and politicians, acting on a nostalgic isolationism, began to attack modernism in art and literary forms. (45)
The notion of a mixed, almost contradictory responsiveness to the modern is also applicable to the Australian context. It is demonstrated through the cases of some key individuals from apparently opposing sides of the debates on modernism in Australia. In the case of Norman Lindsay, his idealism, his aesthetic elitism, his receptive reading of Nietzsche and his renewal of past traditions in the short-lived journal Vision may be classed as modernist, even though he rejected modern life and cultural Forms. (46) Lionel Lindsay's modernism combined a conservative cultural nationalism with an isolationist horror at all the 'revolutionary manias of a rotted world', as he described modern Europe in 1923. (47) Lionel Lindsay's views epitomised the fascist-leaning, anti-modern loathing described by Blair as one side of the possible intellectual response to modernity. However, as the William Dobell Archibald Prize nomination by Lindsay demonstrates, his rejection of modernist innovation was not absolute. Safe, moderate innovation was permissible. Thus, while the Lindsay brothers were not themselves engaged in exploring or advocating anti-realist innovations in art, in their receptiveness to the writing or art of some innovators, and in their negative reactions to modernity, they may be viewed as modernist.
Lionel Lindsay's position on modernity was similar in many respects to that of a known modernist painter, Grace Cossington Smith. Socially and ideologically, Cossington Smith was conservative and modestly bourgeois. She resided in the suburban upper north shore of Sydney, a suburb away from Lionel Lindsay. Her art, though responsive to modernity, did not fit into the category of fashionable and design-oriented modernism. The nearest she came to print-oriented design was a patriotic poster sketch made during the first world war that demonstrated her staunch pro-conscription, anti-strike stance. The sketch, Awake Australia, depicted Australia as a young woman, accompanied by a kangaroo, rushing towards a saluting soldier. (48) Possibly poster art seemed a little trite to her, as Cossington Smith soon channelled her horror at the 'anti's' into a series of works described by Roland Wakelin as 'cartoons'. (49) They included Strike, Reinforcements, and Crowd at Races. Cossington Smith's early works reveal anxiety and modern alienation: 'For all Grace's play with oblique light sources, for all her exuberance and ambition, the world beyond was not a safe place. Not in 1918'. (50) In her later works, her imagery retreated once more into the bright, warm, reassuring world of interiors. In select homely environments the modern world could be held at bay, it seemed, or transcended through the worship of light and colour. Yet, her obsession with windows, doors and mirrors suggests that decades after the first world war Cossington Smith's safe-havens were still threatened with fragmentation and disintegration. She was never comfortable with modernity, even though her art aspired to transcend the chaos.
The shifting interplay of responses to modernity in Australian philosophies on art is also apparent in the example of Ethel Anderson, a close friend and patron of Cossington Smith, Roland Wakelin and Roy de Maistre. Ethel Anderson was herself a staunch political conservative whose husband, Austin, was a brigadier-general in the British army and worked as secretarial aide to a series of NSW state governors. Ethel Anderson appeared to embrace and encourage modernism, but her advocacy demonstrates a tendency to sanitise it in order to present it as a corrective to modernity. Like Norman Lindsay, Anderson looked to the past for a way of comprehending the present, linking modern art with a tradition of innovation that stretched back past the Renaissance to antiquity and included widely accepted 'greats' such as Leonardo da Vinci. She also justified modern innovation in terms of the search for incorruptible values and standards, pointing to the role of art in attempting to convey something of the values of beauty, truth and goodness. (51) Roland Wakelin, she claimed, sought to create a beauty that had 'its own absolute value,' that transcended space and time, and was, 'in essence, universal'. (52) Cossington Smith's modernism, she argued in 1932, was 'an influence against the rising tide of communism. It stood for the life of the spirit'. Such art was safe because the 'modern movement in art' was highly personal. (53) Elsewhere Anderson explained that it was the personal vision that could rescue art from 'mass-interests', the 'topical', or the 'provincial', and find ways of expressing the 'universal', the 'absolute' and the 'great' in visual form. (54)
For her part, Mary Alice Evatt explained that art offered a way 'to clarify one's thinking, one's way of life and make it fundamentally sounder'. 'Life is short, art is long', she continued. She admired artists like Picasso, because he aimed 'to get at the truth'. (55) To an American audience in the 1940s, she declared, 'art is able to crystallize [sic] emotions, intellectual trends, moments in the past, [and] moments in the future'. (56) Mary Alice Evatt may have been more in tune with her age, yet she still viewed art as a way to sanitise modern life: 'critical or appreciative art viewers [were] also people capable of a larger and more complete life as citizens of a modern state'. (57)
Artistic conservatives also reasoned that art should serve as an educator in higher ideals, but did so in a way that justified their rejection of modernism in art in favour of idealised nature. The Lindsays genuinely believed that modernism threatened the 'canons of beauty'. (58) To James MacDonald, the 'new school' set out 'to prove the innate ugliness of all that seems beautiful'. Modernists not only perverted beauty, but were 'unconcerned with and only affect[ed] infinitesimally man's search for truth'. (59) On the other hand, nationalist landscape paintings, such as Arthur Streeton's The Purple Noon "s Transparent Light, were concerned with 'permanent things' like 'Love, Truth and Beauty'. (60) It appears that artistic allusions to a set of eternal values, or lessons drawn from great traditions of the past were comforting in the uncertainty of the present, whatever the type of art that was seen to convey them. Idealism and nostalgia were both characteristic intellectual and artistic responses to modernity.
The notion that a host of intricately overlapping versions of modernism coexisted, explains, to some extent, the inconsistencies that seem to emerge when writers attempt to draw sets of neat dichotomies such as conservatives versus radical modernists, or conservatives versus superficial women modernists. If neat dichotomies offer an inadequate tool for analysing modernism and its manifestation in Australian art, what tool can we use? Possibly the answer lies in the recent work of Bernard Smith, whose thinking has traversed considerable distance over the course of his career as art critic and historian. Modernism, Smith argues in the aptly titled Modernism's History, may be understood in terms of separate 'critiques of Modernity' rather than specific artistic movements. The artistic avant garde might struggle to make 'Modernity endurable, livable', yet at the moment this aim was achieved, that avant garde and its critique failed. (61) Institutionalised modernism was, by its acceptance, no longer at variance with modernity. It was no longer modernism. Hal Foster made the point over a decade earlier; 'modernism, at least as a tradition, has "won"--but its victory is a Pyrrhic one no different than defeat, for modernism is now largely absorbed'. (62) In terms of the victory story, the historians seem to agree that the art establishment had 'come to accept contemporaneity as a principle' by the early 1960s. (63) The victory meant that innovation in art had to become a characteristic of modernity. Innovation in art no longer acted as a critique of modernity, therefore it could no longer be considered modernism.
If we use the term 'modernism' to refer to separate critiques, and accept that modernisms had limited life cycles, the art histories by Bernard Smith, Humphrey McQueen and Richard Haese, and their absorption in the polemic of the modern art wars of the 1930s and '40s make more sense. The artists and their historians represent two distinct critiques, two modernisms. Ian Turner, in writing about Australian nationalism, identified two generations of radical nationalists interested in Australian history. (64) They were also naturally interested in Australian art history. He included the early work of Smith with the first generation, closely allied with the radical modernism of the 1940s, and McQueen with the second, the new left critics of the 1970s. Haese, first published in 1981, also followed the new left line. In the new left view, the first generation of radical nationalists had failed both in significantly transforming Australian society and in sustaining their critique of modernity. They accused the earlier writers and artists of diffusing the potential for revolutionary action by focussing on egalitarian democracy. McQueen, for example, argued that Smith celebrated bourgeois achievement rather than critiquing it by including a positive appraisal of the Heidelberg school of the late nineteenth century in his book Australian Painting. (65) Haese argued that a new establishment emerged as the result of the art wars of the 1930s and '40s that was liberal, not conservative. Some would class McQueen and the new left as postmodern, but Smith in Modernism's History argues for continuity between modernism and postmodernism. In view of the classification of modernism as critique, the post-modern attack on the former modernisms that had become absorbed in modernity itself appears as modernism. (66)
Smith's thesis thus unites successive generations of modernists by defining modernisms in terms of their relationship with modernity. Critique is cyclic, ongoing, and inevitable as modernity evolves. Analytical models of modernism that rely on dichotomous relationships can only be applied within the immediate cycle of the critique. Although Smith's thesis is expressed in terms of aesthetic critiques of modernity, and the radical nationalist critique concerns capitalism, it is also possible to see the reactionary behaviour of the conservatives entrenched in the art establishment, as well as the modernism of Grace Cossington Smith and Ethel Anderson, as critiques of modernity. Their work may not fit the radical nationalist canon, but, as the previous discussion of nostalgia and alienation, fascist inclinations and anti-modern loathing reveals, they too harboured real fears about the modern present. True, their fears might have been raised by the spectres of communism, mass strikes, and mass culture; indeed, their reactions placed them in antithetic positions to radical modernists, but both critiques picked and pulled at an image of modernity that was unsettling. The simultaneity of modernism meant that new and active critiques were viewed by contemporaries as a sign of modernity's latest horror and critiqued as such. The polemic-loaded encounters of the interwar period resulted from the clash of different co-existent modernisms.
We return to the 'victim' story of modernist women artists. We may also understand feminist cultural history as radical critique, and therefore a form of modernism itself. Its critique relates to the apparent failure of an earlier feminist critique, that of the women modernists of the 1920s and '30s, blaming it on the masculinism of the art establishment of the interwar period and the successive generations of radical nationalists. The feminist historical project initially set out to recover women's actions and experience from obscurity and demonstrate how gender has concealed them. This project has taken place across the cultural disciplines. More recently, feminists from Australia and around the globe have proposed the need to investigate female agency. The feminist art historians cited in this essay gestured in this direction by showing that women modernists were there, that they were educated, and that they engaged in a serious manner in aesthetic responses to modernity. Thea Proctor, Grace Cossington Smith, Ethel Anderson and Mary Alice Evatt, each in their own way, critiqued modernity. So why do these women appear as marginal? The feminist art historians are right to point to gender: the framework for the conception of modernism was established on masculine experience, male figures of importance, and a particular set of responses to modernity. (67) Bonnie Kime Scott, editor of The Gender of Modernism." A Critical Anthology, affirms that modernism, as taught in the mid-twentieth century, 'was unconsciously gendered masculine'. (68) Modernism is spoken of in terms of the search for appropriate responses to 'the modern' as manifested in the public life of the emergent metropolis in mid-nineteenth-century Britain and Europe. According to Wolff, it was about male responses to a transformed public domain. That transformation resulted from the removal of women from public life in a powerful rhetoric directed at the middle class and upper working class. (69)
Yet women artists and intellectuals were engaged in their own plethora of responses to modernity as it evolved. Responding to their experience of 'the modern', women contested modernity by engaging in suffrage and temperance campaigns, resisting or embracing change and subverting modern gender roles. The modern woman was a living critique of the successive antithetic roles cast on her in the modern age, and hence of modernity itself. That the radical woman herself became an intrinsic element of modernity is demonstrated by the successive waves of criticism she evoked, in Britain, America and Australia. The sexism of the interwar art world in Australia is evidence that modern women were both a part of, and apart from, modernity. Even while women modernists critiqued modernity their radical claim to artistic agency was interpreted as a sign that modernity had gone wrong.
(1) Christine Dixon, 'Arguing The Modern: The Australian Academy of Art versus The Contemporary Art Society', Art Network, Winter-Spring 1986, pp 56-57.
(2) Bernard Smith with Terry Smith, 3rd ed., Australian Painting 1788-1990, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1991; Geoffrey Dutton, The Innovators: the Sydney Alternatives in the Rise of Modern Art, Literature and Ideas, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1986; Richard Haese, Modern Australian Art, (first published by Penguin as Rebels and Precursors, 1981), Alpine Fine Arts Collection, New York, 1982; and Humphrey McQueen, The Black Swan of Trespass: The Emergence of Modernist Painting in Australia to 1944, Alternate Publishing Cooperative Limited, Sydney, 1979.
(3) Smith, op. cit., p 195.
(5) To avoid confusion with Bernard Smith, Cossington Smith will be used instead of Smith.
(6) Smith, op. cit., p 198.
(7) ibid., p 216; Haese, op. cit., p 43.
(8) Adrian Lawlor, Arquebus, Ruskin Press, Melbourne, 1937; Haese, op.cit., pp 42, 46; and Smith, op. cit., pp 216-18.
(9) McQueen, op. cit., p.27; Smith, op. cit.; Haese, op. cit., p 43.
(10) Smith, op. cit.; Dutton, op. cit., p 68; Herald, 3 June 1937.
(11) Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), 7 June 1939; 3 July 1939; Daily Telegraph, 7 June 1939.
(12) Dutton, op.cit.; A C, 'Evatt, Mary Alice', in Joan Kerr (ed), Heritage: The National Women's Art Book, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1995, pp 347-8; and Ken Buekley, Barbara Dale and Wayne Reynolds, Doe Evatt: Patriot, Internationalist, Fighter and Scholar, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne, 1994, p 120.
(13) SMH, 10 February 1937, and 21 June 1937; First Exhibition of the Australian Academy of Art, Art in Australia, 16 May 1938, p 13; and Haese, op. cit., p 4.
(14) SMH, 6 March 1937.
(15) Draft, Evatt Foundation Collection, Flinders University Library Special Collections, Contemporary Art Society folder.
(16) Lionel Lindsay to Keith Murdoch, 2 September 1940, 22 September 1941, in Papers of Keith Murdoch, NLA MS 2823, series 1 folder 1; and Lionel Lindsay, various letters, 1941-2, in Papers of Sir Lionel Lindsay, NLA MS 5631, 'Copies of letters Lindsay to Menzies 1940-1961'.
(17) Lindsay to G K Sutton, 1 April 1944, in Lindsay Family Papers, State Library of Victoria, MS 8530, box 993/2; Lindsay to McGregor, 23 March 1944, quoted in Dutton, op.cit., p 118; Lindsay to Menzies, 19 April 1944, 3 April 1944, in Lindsay Papers, NLA.
(18) Haese, op.cit., p 252.
(19) Draft correspondence, Frank Hinder to Peter Crockett, no date, Frank Hinder, Further Papers, Part 2, ML MSS 5720 ADD-ON 2062/2.
(20) Minutes of the Monthly Meetings of the Trustees of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, 21 January 1944, ML FM4 3118, p 2609.
(21) Lionel Lindsay to Sydney Ure Smith, 6 April 1943, in Sydney Ure Smith Papers, ML MSS 31, vol 2, p 109.
(22) Mary Eagle, Australian Modern Painting Between the Wars, 1914-1939, Bay Books, Sydney, 1989.
(23) Janine Burke, Australian Women Artists, 1840-1940, Victoria, Melbourne, 1980.
(24) Caroline Ambrus, Australian Women Artists: First Fleet to 1945: History, Hearsay and Her Say, Irrepressible Press, Woden, ACT, 1992, pp 123-43.
(25) ibid., p 133.
(26) Ian Burn, National Life and Landscapes: Australian Painting 1900-1940, Sydney, 1991; and Terry Smith, 'The Divided Meaning of Shearing the Rams: Artists and Nationalism, 1888-1891', in A Bradley and T Smith (eds), Australian Art and Architecture: Essays Presented to Bernard Smith, Melbourne, 1980, pp 99-123.
(27) Jeanette Hoom, 'Women make modernism: contesting masculinist art criticism', in Jeanette Hoom (ed), Strange Women: Essays in Art and Gender, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994, p 27.
(28) Caroline Jordan, 'Designing women: Modernism and its representation in Art in Australia', in ibid., p 28.
(29) Mar y Mackay, 'Almost dancing: Thea Proctor and the modern woman', in Maryanne Dever (ed), Wallflowers and Witches: Women and Culture in Australia 1910-1945, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 1994, pp 26-37.
(30) Pam James, '"No thank you, but do you have any painted fan decorations?": Modernist women artists and the gatekeepers of culture', in ibid., pp 63-72.
(31) Helen Topliss, Modernism and Feminism: Australian Women Artists 1900-1940, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1996, pp 15-16.
(32) ibid., p 10.
(33) ibid., p 27.
(34) ibid., p 12.
(35) Janet Wolff, Feminine Sentences: Essays on Women and Culture, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1990, pp 36, 53, 54.
(36) See Jurgen Habermas, 'Modernity--an incomplete project', in Hal Foster (ed and introduction) (1983) Postmodern Culture, Pluto Press, (first pub. as The Anti-Aesthetic, Bay Press).
(37) Wolff, op. cit., p 58.
(38) Dutton, op. cit., p xiii.
(39) Marianne Dekoven, 'Modernism and gender', in Michael Levenson (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Modernism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p 175.
(40) Michael Bell, 'The Metaphysics of Modernism', in ibid., p 18.
(41) Sara Blair, 'Modernism and the politics of culture', in ibid., pp 166-7.
(42) Bernard Bergonzi, The Myth of Modernism and Twentieth Century Literature, St Martin's Press, New York, 1986, pp xi, xii.
(43) Blair, op. cit., p 166.
(44) John Williams, The Quarantined Culture: Australian Reactions to Modernism 1913-1939, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp 1-2.
(45) Julian Croft, 'Responses to Modernism, 1915-1965', in Australian Literary Studies, vol 13, no 4, October 1988; and Williams, op. cit.
(46) Ursula Prunster, 'Norman Lindsay and the Australian Renaissance', in Bradley and Smith, op. cit., pp 161-3.
(47) Lionel Lindsay, 'Australian Art', in The Exhibition of Australian Art in London, 1923, Art in Australia, Sydney, 1923, n p.
(48) Reproduced in Brace James, Grace Cossington Smith, Sydney, 1990, p 46. See also Jane Hunt, 'Grace Cossington Smith: a cultural paradox?', Honours Thesis, University of Western Sydney, 1995.
(49) Roland Wakelin, 'The Modern Movement in Art', in Art in Australia, no 26, September 1928, n p.
(50) Drusilla Modjeska, Stravinsky's Lunch, Picador, Sydney, 1999, p 250.
(51) Ethel Anderson, 'The Nature of Art', in Ethel Anderson, Timeless Garden, Australasian Publishing Co, Sydney, copyright not dated, pp 123-28.
(52) SMH, 8 September 1928.
(53) SMH, 3 March 1932.
(54) Ethel Anderson, 'Subject in Australian Art', in Art in Australia, no 29, 1929, n p.
(55) Mel Pratt Oral History Collection, 'Mary Alice Evatt interviews', 26 April-1 June, 1973, NLA, Transcript 121/41, 3:1/5, 1:2/35, and 2:2/29; and Dr Melissa Boyde, "A fresh point of view': the life and work of Mary Alice Evatt', in Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, Mary Alice Evatt mas 1898-1973, Survey Exhibition, 2002.
(56) Untitled typescript speech, n d, in EFC, 'Evatt, Mary Alice--cultural activities' folder.
(58) Lloyd Rees, The small treasures of a lifetime: some early memories of Australian art and artists, Collins, Sydney, 1969, pp 93, 94.
(59) James Macdonald, undated, untitled notes, J S Macdonald Papers, NLA MS 430, box 1, pp 15, 27.
(60) James MacDonald, 'Frederick McCubbin', The Art of Frederick McCubbin: Forty Five Illustrations in Colour and Black and White, Melbourne, 1916, pp 14, 89.
(61) Bernard Smith, Modernism's History: A study in twentieth-century art and ideas, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 1998, p 12.
(62) Foster, op. cit., p ix.
(63) Bernard Smith, The critic as advocate: selected essays, 1941-1988, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1989, 176.
(64) Ian Turner, 'Australian Nationalism and Australia's History', Journal of Australian Studies, no 4, June 1979.
(65) McQueen, op.cit, pp 51-5.
(66) Smith, 1998, op. cit., p.345.
(67) Wolff, op. cit., p 56.
(68) Bonnie Kime Scott (ed), The Gender of Modernism: A Critical Anthology, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1990, p 2.
(69) Wolff; op. cit.…