The Artists

Jane Sutherland


Jane Sutherland, c. 1885
Ms. 12311,
Sutherland Family Scrapbook,
La Trobe collection
State Library of Victoria

Jane Sutherland, artist and teacher, was born on 26 December 1853 in New York. She was the eldest daughter, and was one of three daughters and five sons of George Sutherland, woodcarver of ship's figure-heads, and Jane Sutherland, nee Smith, both Scottish born.

The family returned to Scotland before travelling to Sydney in 1864. Later they travelled to Melbourne, where they settled in 1870, and resided at 1 Lytton Street, Carlton.

George Sutherland gained employment as a drawing instructor with the Department of Education, and exhibited with the Victorian Academy of Arts, 1875-1878.

Jane was encouraged by her father in her artistic pursuits and enrolled in the National Gallery Schools. She studied at the National Gallery School of Design under Thomas Clark, 1871-1875, and in the same School under Oswald Rose Campbell, 1877-1881. She also enrolled in the National Gallery School of Painting, and studied under Eugene von Guerard in 1877, and under George Frederick Folingsby, 1882-1885. The fact that she attended classes at the National Gallery Schools, including some night classes, for a period of fourteen years, shows her conviction to her studies, and her seriousness for the profession.

Her student work was highly acclaimed, and in October 1883, she was awarded the Robert Wallen Prize of five guineas at the annual exhibition of the students' work. She was well liked by her fellow students, and was invited by Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin to the Box Hill Camp, where she painted her work 'Obstruction, Box Hill' in 1887.

She exhibited in 1878 with the Victorian Academy of Arts and also the Australian Artists' Association, with whom 'Obstruction, Box Hill' was exhibited in their Winter Exhibition of 1887, Catalogue no.32, price: 10 guineas. She later exhibited with the Victorian Artists' Society until 1911. She also exhibited works in the federal exhibitions in 1899, 1903 and 1906 at the South Australian Society of Arts, and along with Clara Southern, and May Vale, exhibited in the First Exhibition of Australian Women's Work held in the Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne, 1907.

Jane Sutherland, Clara Southern, May Vale and Jane Price also exhibited together in a 'Private Exhibition of Pictures' held in November 1905 in Frederick McCubbin's home, in Shipley Street, South Yarra.

Like her close friend, Clara Southern, she was a woman of considerable conviction, a leader and pioneer of the plein-air movement, who sought to advance the professional standing of women artists. She was one of the first women members of the Buonarotti Society, and was elected to the Society on 24 July 1884. She was also one of the first two women to be elected a Councillor of the Victorian Artists' Society, this occurring in 1900. The other elected woman councillor in 1900, was May Vale.

From 1888, she shared a studio for several years with Clara Southern and Jane Price in Grosvenor Chambers, 9 Collins Street, Melbourne, and the three artists worked closely together and often painted plein-air together at various sites around Melbourne. She also painted plein-air with Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Walter Withers at Heidelberg, Eaglemont, Templestowe and Box Hill, and was considered the leading woman artist of the Heidelberg School.

Table Talk noted that she was 'one of the busiest lady artists in Melbourne…as, in addition to her painting, she has several pupils, whom she receives individually or in classes, giving close attention to drawing as the absolutely necessary groundwork'.

Her landscapes, such as 'Girl in a Paddock', c. 1890, and 'The Mushroom Gatherers', c. 1895, have been described as lyrical and often depict children or women within a domesticated landscape. The subject matter and method of depiction in her works was very much that chosen by Clara Southern, with the figures blending with the tones of the landscape.

A work such as 'Daydream', also painted around 1895, is typical of her narrative works, many of which were produced in soft pastel tones. It is interesting to note, that in subject matter and presentation, this work is very similar to the work 'A Love Story', that was painted by Emanuel Phillips Fox, some eight years later, in 1903.

Around 1904, Jane Sutherland suffered a mild stroke, and her younger brother, William, helped to move her around. She continued to produce small oils and intimate pastels, including portraits and scenes from her garden, and local landscapes, such as views across the Yarra River at Kew and Abbotsford. One of the pastel works painted around this time, was her 'Portrait of Margaret Sutherland as a Young Girl', c.1905. She also, with the assistance of her cousin, Jean Goodlet Sutherland, gave art lessons.

With the death of her brother, William, in 1911, she ceased painting, and no longer exhibited with the Victorian Artists' Society.

In 1913, she moved in with her sisters, Julia and Jessie, in Highfield Grove, Kew, and her life, because of her invalid state, became very much restricted to this house. She died at home on 25 July 1928, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Box Hill Cemetery.

She was an artist of great promise, whose talents were lost through a stroke at the peak of her career. However, her stimulus on her fellow women artists, especially her encouragement for them to fight for their professional standing, and her encouragement for them to paint plein-air, was a lasting legacy of this fine artist.

Her works have appeared in many exhibitions, and these include:

Australian Women Artists: One Hundred Years 1840-1940, George Paton and Ewing Galleries,
Melbourne, 1975;

The Story of the Sutherland Family, VCA Gallery, Melbourne, 1977;

Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond, curated by the National Gallery of Victoria, 1986;

Completing the Picture: Women Artists of the Heidelberg Era, Artmoves, 1992; and

A Century of Australian Women Artists 1840s-1940s, Deutscher Galleries, Melbourne, 1993.

Andrew Mackenzie

Left: Arthur Streeton - Above Us The Great Grave Sky, 1890
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Copyright © Pty Ltd 2000. All Rights Reserved.
ABN 69 067 524 921
Tel: +61 3 98185700 Fax: +61 3 98185044