Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

History Revisited - Thea Proctor: from NEGS to the art world of Edwardian London

SCHOOL GROUNDS: Renowned artist Thea Proctor lived in Armidale for a brief period before returning to study at the New England Girls School. Proctor would go on to study art in the vibrant world of Edwardian London.
For most, to be born or educated in Armidale is to leave the city. Their journeys have taken them all over the world and into every aspect of life.

Artist Alethea Mary (Thea) Proctor was born in Armidale on 2 October 1879, the oldest child of William Consett Proctor and his Queensland born wife Kathleen Janet Louisa, née Roberts.

Thea’s father had come to Armidale as a solicitor. He became involved in local government and was Mayor of the City in 1877. In December 1880, he was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly as Member for New England, a position he was to hold until January 1887.

Some time after his election, the family moved to Sydney, living comfortably at Hunters  Hill. Then in 1889, Thea was sent back to Armidale to board at NEGS. Her parents’ marriage had become troubled. They separated in 1892, divorcing in 1897. On 24 August 1903 William Proctor again married. His new wife was Julia Cusack. They would have one son and three daughters.

It is not clear what contact Thea retained with her father or, later, with her half brothers and sisters. Following the separation, she went to live at Bowral with her maternal grandparents. They encouraged her interest in art. artistic pursuits. In 1894, while attending Lynthorpe Ladies' College, Thea won a prize at the Bowral Amateur Art Society's exhibition. Because of this connection, Bowral claims Thea as its own.

In 1896, Thea enrolled at Julian Ashton's art school. The school emphasized drawing and the latest decorative ideas in composition.

This was an exciting time in Australian art. Thea became fully absorbed in a world in which art and personal relations were closely interlinked. Her fellow students included Elioth Gruner, George Lambert and Sydney Long. She became briefly engaged to Long in 1899, but it was with Lambert she formed the closest relationship.

In 1899, she worked with with Lambert, Long, and others on the short-lived Australian Magazine.. Then in 1903, Thea followed the now established art trail to London where she studied at St John's Wood Art Schools and with Lambert. She was described at this time as 'beautiful, tall, dark-haired, languorous and dignified'.

Years later, she retained this beauty. “Miss Proctor received us in something between a tea gown and a peignoir”, Barry Humphries would write. :”She was tall and still very beautiful, with her long hair caught back in a bun. One recognised without difficulty the striking young woman who appears in more than one of George Lambert’s most celebrated paintings.”

The exact relationship between Proctor and Lambert remains uncertain. She posed for him and frequented his household. She found him intellectually stimulating, became 'doggedly devoted' to him, establishing a life long friendship. It was clearly a friendship that had multiple levels.

It may seem a long way from Armidale and the NEGS dormitories of the 1880s to the vibrant intellectual life of London and Paris at the start of the twentieth century, but that (in a way) is the Armidale story. Our tentacles reach across time and space in often unseen ways.

I will complete Thea’s story in my next column.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 2 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.


Hels said...

What was the Australia Magazine and where can I find it?
What was Thea's role in this magazine?

Jim Belshaw said...

Hes, I'm sorry for my very slow response on this one. I have been away. I don't have any information on the magazine itself. perhaps the Mitchell Library in Sydney? In searching, I did fins this piece on her life that you might find interesting - http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/thea-proctor-in-london-1910-11-her-early-involvement-with-fashion/

Anonymous said...

I live in Proctor St need any history of this once dirt track :)

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Anon. This Council piece may be of interest - file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/OWNER/My%20Documents/Downloads/12310-Streets.pdf

Specifically on Proctor Street "William Consett Proctor was mayor from 1877 to 1879. He was a solictor and a member of the N.S.W. Legislative Assembly from 1880 to 1887."