GLAMOROUS EVENT: Thea Proctor's interest in decorative work strengthened by her participation in annual The Chelsea Arts Club Ball.
Artist Thea Proctor was 23 or just 24 when she arrived in
1903. It was an exciting time. London
In addition to her close relationship with George Lambert, she mixed with the other Australian expatriate artists including Charles Condor, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, artists whose paintings can be found in the
. New England Regional
Proctor became preoccupied with line, colour and form, concentrating on drawing and water colour painting. Here she was influenced by Condor’s fan designs, Japanese prints and the drawings of the French neo-classical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Her interest in decorative work was also highlighted by the Chelsea Arts Club balls with their elaborate costumes and through exposure to the Ballets Russes.
Founded by impresario Sergei Diaghilev in 1909, the
based Ballets Russes is widely regarded as the most influential ballet company
of the 20th century. Diaghilev consciously tried to promote artistic
collaborations among leading young choreographers, composers, designers, and
dancers. As part of this, he commissioned works from composers such as Igor
Stravinsky and Claude Debussy, artists such as, Pablo Picasso and Henri
Matisse, and designer Coco Chanel. Paris
The impact on Thea seems to have been considerable. .After seeing the Ballets Russes in 1911, she exclaimed “it would be difficult to imagine anything more beautiful and inspiring”.
Thea’s art works, her decorative fans and drawings, were well received. However, I am left wondering at the extent to which this focus was gender connected. We know from other writing including the biographies of
artist Stella Bowen as well as that of Dora Carrington that decoration was seen
as a more acceptable female role. Australia
Thea returned to
in 1912, but finding the market unresponsive she moved back to late in
1914, achieving more critical success. Then, with many other expatriate artists
including George Lambert, she returned to England following the war. Australia
she became active in the Society of Artists and in 1925 held a joint exhibition
in Sydney and Melbourne with Margaret Preston. Both artists included brightly
coloured wood cuts in scarlet frames. While Proctor’s work was comparatively
conservative, it was seen as ‘dangerously modern’ in Australian terms. Sydney
The next year, she joined with Lambert and others to found the Contemporary Group to promote young avante garde artists.
While Proctor’s work achieved considerable critical and indeed popular success, she needed to supplement her income through teaching art and writing.
Always elegantly dressed and considered an arbiter of taste, Thea wrote on fashion, flower arranging, colours for cars and interior decoration. In the 1920s she organized artists' balls; in 1932 she designed the fashionably modern Lacquer Room restaurant for Department store Farmer & Co; and in the 1940s produced theatre décor.
Thea continued to paint throughout her life and to play an active role in encouraging young artists. Unmarried, she died at Potts Point on 29 July 1966. It had been a long and interesting life from her birth in Armidale and those early years at NEGS.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 September 2015. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015.