Wielding the Brush : Esther Paterson

A Lifetime of Australian Art

by Gae Anderson

Gae Anderson

Gae Anderson on a bus

In October 2009 I visited my home town of Wagga Wagga to promote my first book, "Tivoli King".

Unexpectedly, I was introduced to a booklet titled "Esther Paterson: A Creative Life" written by Joseph Eisenberg and Caroline Downer.

Their work formed part of Esther Paterson's retrospective touring exhibition to Wagga in 2004.

The booklet's front cover, featuring Esther Paterson's colour portrait of her sister Betty titled The Yellow Gloves, so captured my interest that I wanted to learn more about its creator.

"Wielding the Brush" is the outcome of my five-year journey of discovery that began in 2010.

Wielding the Brush

This book recuperates for art historians and the reading public the distinguished but forgotten career of the Melbourne artist, Esther Paterson.

Aside from providing a close-up of Esther's oeuvre - sketches for newspapers and magazines, landscape painting and portraiture - the book illuminates her close association with her family, in particular her husband George Gill and her sister Betty Paterson, also an artist. Esther began classes at the National Gallery Art School (NGAS) under the tutelage of drawing master Fred McCubbin, and painting master Bernard Hall. She graduated in 1912.

Her first major solo exhibition at Melbourne's Besant Hall in 1915 drew critical acclaim from Punch magazine and the Argus, The Age and Herald newspapers.Aussie Girls, Esther's book of watercolour sketches, published at the end of 1918, was an immediate success for its witty expose of the new and permissive woman. Prime Minister William 'Billy' Hughes, a family friend, opened Esther and Betty's joint exhibition at the Queen's Hall on Saturday 1 July 1922. But it failed to gain the critical response Esther received from her previous solo show.

William McInnes, an Archibald Prize winner, invited Esther, a former NGAS classmate, to be one of his four sitters for the 1926 Archibald Prize. Of the sixty works submitted, McInnes won with Esther's portrait titled 'Silk and lace'. Basking in the glory of McInnes' win, Esther invited the distinguished lawyer, Sir Randolph Garran, to open her second solo exhibition at the New Gallery in Elizabeth Street the following year.