Thea Proctor was born in Armidale, NSW in 1879, and began her art studies in 1896 at Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School, a contemporary of Elioth Gruner, Sydney Long and George Lambert (with whom she developed a close friendship). Her early work revealed her interest in design, producing mural and poster designs, book plates and illustrations for 'The Australian Magazine'. In 1903 she left for London, where she was to stay for eighteen years (with the exception of one visit home between 1912 and 1914). She studied at the St Johns Wood School , and moved in social circles with writers, musicians and artists including Charles Conder, Wilson Steer, William Orpen and Augustus John. She exhibited with the New English Art Club, the Royal Academy and at the Goupil and Grafton Galleries. Upon her return to Australia in 1921, she became a prominent and vocal figure in Sydney art circles, championing design with a tempered modernism, and was closely involved with Sydney Ure Smith's 'Home' magazine as illustrator, author and taste-maker. She taught, wrote and lectured on art, design and interior decoration, and was an active member of artists' groups - on the selection committee of the Society of Artists, and with George Lambert helped found the Contemporary Group in 1926.
While working in London, Proctor became very interested in costume design and the theatre; she was particularly impressed by the 'Ballet Russe', which performed in London, utilising avant garde costume and scenery designs by artists such as Matisse, Picasso and Braque. She made many works during this time inspired by the subject, and her interest in the theatre and ballet lasted throughout her life.
In England there had been a revival of interest in 'artistic lithography', with the work of Whistler in the late 1870s. Proctor produced lithographs in the years 1915-21, while she studied lithography at the Chelsea Polytechnic under F Ernest Jackson. He was a founding member of the Senefelder Club in 1909 which promoted the medium in England; Proctor exhibited with the Club 1918-20. Jackson encouraged direct drawing onto a lithographic stone, preferably from life, a technique Proctor followed. 'Before rehearsal' was illustrated with another print, 'The tame bird', in a special edition of 'The Studio' magazine 'Modern woodcuts and lithographs' in 1919. The subjects were identified by Proctor as Maurice Lambert aged eighteen with Penelope Spencer, a 'premier ballerina at Covent Garden'. Proctor exhibited her own lithographs in Australia with those by other members of the Senefelder Club in 1921 and 1922 in Australia, but there was a poor response to the work which discouraged her from making lithographs after that date.
Hendrik Kolenberg and Anne Ryan, 'Australian prints from the Gallery's collection, AGNSW, 1998
Maurice Lambert and Penelope Spencer
lithograph, printed in black ink on thin cream laid paper
from an edition of 24
41.9 x 33.9 cm image, 51.0 x 41.5 cm sheet
Signature & date
Signed l.r., pencil "Thea Proctor". Not dated.
Not on display
Shown in 1 exhibition
Australian prints from the Gallery's collection (1998-1999), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 Nov 1998–07 Feb 1999
Referenced in 5 publications
Hendrik Kolenberg and Anne Ryan, Australian prints from the Gallery's collection, Sydney, 1998, 59 (illus.). cat.no. 47
Lionel Lindsay, 150 years of Australian art, Sydney, 1938. cat.no. 536 [Gallery No. 5]
Jan Minchin, The prints: Thea Proctor, 'Thea Proctor: a biography', pg. 6-13, Sydney, 1980, 38, 39 (illus.). cat.no. 8
Malcolm C Salaman, Modern woodcuts and lithographs by British and French artists, London, 1919, 171 (illus.).
Andrew Sayers, The world of Thea Proctor, 'Thea Proctor: artist and tastemaker', pg. 4-15, Canberra, 2005, 10, 40, 109 (colour illus.). NOTE: this is not the AGNSW impression