Mary Alice Evatt: Art for the People
Time & Location
About the Event
- Cost: Free (with a cash bar)
- RSVP: email or phone 02 4780 5410 by Monday 14 May
- Contact: Sabrina Roesner (Exhibition Manager), or Rose Stibbard (Promotion and Retail Manager)
- Cost: Free with Gallery Admission
- RSVP: 02 4780 5410
Mary Alice Sheffer (1898-1973) was born in the USA but lived all her life in Australia. She met Herbert Vere Evatt at the University of Sydney in 1918 when they were both students and they married two years later. The Evatts were strongly committed to the need for social change. They were also passionate about modern art and both welcomed the movement away from techniques of representational illusionism to abstractionism.
On their return to Australia in 1939 from an extended stay in Europe and the USA, Mary Alice Evatt remarked in an article in the Australian Women’s Weekly that paintings devoted to gum trees, sheep, koalas and misty seascapes were the only Australian works selected to hang in World Fair Art Exhibitions. She gently derided the decision makers who overlooked Australia's modernist, experimental artists, many of whom were women: 'if only those in authority were to select the paintings of Australian artists who prefer creation to photography, and were less overawed by official selection bodies, Australia might find a worthy place on the art map of the world'.
Mary Alice played an active role as an advocate of the modern movement in Australia during a period in which the dominant climate was conservative; in the art world there was division between supporters of traditional and contemporary art. A well known instance is the controversy that surrounded the award of the 1943 Art Gallery of New South Wales' Archibald Prize to a non-traditional portrait. The tensions implicit in this controversy between conservatism and modernity were further exemplified in the opposed views of Dr Evatt and the conservative Prime Minister Robert Menzies. Menzies considered modern art to be 'ill-drawn' and 'unintelligible to the unilluminated mind'. Dr Evatt, on the other hand, was recognised as a connoisseur of modem art, opening the controversial first exhibition of the Contemporary Art Society at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1939.
Mary Alice had a strong interest in all forms of contemporary art and studied with leading modernist artists in Australia and overseas. She was not only an accomplished artist but also had an in-depth knowledge of Australian and international art; she and Dr Evatt were ground-breaking collectors. She was a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW for almost thirty years and Hal Missingham, the director at that time, greatly valued her advocacy and support for embracing the new.