Born in Adelaide as
Margaret Rose McPherson in 1875, Margaret Preston had by the 1920s
become one of Australia’s leading modernist artists.
She had spent the years of World War I living and
working in Paris and Britain developing an art based on the decorative
or abstract principles of European post-impressionism and the Japanese
print tradition of Ukiyo-e.
Moving to Sydney by 1920 (having married William
Preston) she expanded her practice to encompass the concept of an
appropriately national art, and became one of the country’s
most astute public commentators on the wider cultural issues shaping
Australia in the era of its new modernity.
Attaching equal importance to craft and painting,
she had, by the late 1920s, gained an exceptional place in the Sydney
art establishment. In 1929 she became the first woman and modernist
to be invited by the Art Gallery of NSW to contribute a self portrait
to the collection.
Preston spent much of
the 1930s living in bushland at Berowra, some 40 kms north of Sydney,
an experience which catalysed a key extension of her art to incorporate
landscape painting. Preston’s growing recognition of the intrinsic
connection between country and art in Aboriginal culture, both informed
her work and prompted her ongoing travel around Australia to study
sites of Aboriginal rock painting.
Preston held her last major exhibition in 1953. As
in previous decades, the Prestons continued to travel extensively
in Australia and abroad. Her final public lecture delivered at the
Art Gallery of NSW in 1958, was the last of an extraordinary number
of lectures, talks and articles, written and delivered by Preston
throughout her career. She died on 28 May 1963.
Images: Margaret Preston c.1925 (detail)
Photograph by Dorothy Warner. Preston archive, Art Gallery of New
South Wales. Margaret Preston in her garden Berowra 1937.
Photograph by FJ Halmarick, Fairfaxphotos. Margaret Preston
1940s (detail). Photograph by Max Dupain. Courtesy of Jill