REX BUTLER and A.D.S. DONALDSON | French, Floral and Female: A History of UnAustralian Art 1900–1930

In this essay, which is another instalment in the authors’ ongoing project of writing a history of ‘UnAustralian’ art in the 20th century, the period 1900 to 1930 is characterised in terms of three adjectives: ‘French’, ‘floral’ and ‘female’. ‘French’ because so much of Australian art history took place in France, or in relation to France, during the period. ‘Floral’ because so much of this history can be understood in terms of flower painting, often included in still lifes and interiors, as opposed to the prevailing ‘gum tree’ nationalism enshrined after the War. ‘Female’ because, extending the existing accounts by women art historians, the entire period can be understood as feminine in character. This ‘UnAustralian’ account breaks with the importance attributed both to Norah Simpson bringing back books on Cubism in 1913 and to Grace Cossington-Smith’s The Sock Knitter (1915) as the first signs of modernism in Australia, and to the War as an event that dramatically changed the course of Australian art history, either by sending Australian artists for the first time overseas or by explaining the prominence of women in Australian art after the War. To think Australian art 1900-1930 as ‘French, floral and female’ is to imagine a different account from the usual nationalist one, to reconceive a history that has remained fundamentally unaltered since William Moore’s The Story of Australian Art (1934). Download article pdf (3.8mb)