Christian Waller by Emma Busowsky Cox
Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).
The Woman of Faery 1932 is a striking image that demonstrates Christian Waller’s virtuosic sense of design and command of the linocut medium. Waller was an early proponent of linocut printmaking in Australia and by the early 1930s the impact of Art Deco design on her work was evident. The radiating hair of the central figure references the sun ray, a key Art Deco motif and a significant symbol in the artist’s personal iconography. Deftly combining modern and ancient symbolism, Waller’s richly decorated composition reveals her literary interests and singular imagination.
Taking its subject from an unpublished short story of the same name, drafted in the artist’s journal from the 1930s, the work features the central and eponymous character holding aloft a white circle of fire (‘the symbol of Faery’), a male protagonist (‘the Man from the World’), and the Earth Woman who diverts the Man from his spiritual quest into the Forest of Faery.(1) Written in idiosyncratic, poetic prose in a similar style to that of The gates of dawn: A book made for the young, which Waller also wrote and illustrated that year,(2) she combines spiritual themes of human travail countered with divine salvation alongside esoteric, symbolic references, expressing her deep interest in Christianity as well as mysticism and the occult.
Waller had registered her own publishing business, Golden Arrow Press, in 1932 under which she released her most celebrated print work, The great breath: A book of seven designs that same year. Completed using a nineteenth‑century hand press at home, this master work of Art Deco design features seven dazzling linocut prints that portray the stages of spiritual evolution as described in modern Theosophy. The work’s excellence was immediately recognised, and the copy acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria was the first of Waller’s to enter a public collection.
Trained at the National Gallery School under Frederick McCubbin and Bernard Hall, Waller initially applied her talents in line‑led design to book illustration and print works, but later, and most prominently, to the production of stained‑glass windows. She became one of Australia’s preeminent artists in the field and the first woman to do so, completing more than 65 commissions for churches in Victoria and New South Wales.(3)
Waller worked from her studio in the Ivanhoe home she shared with her artist husband, Napier Waller and her niece, the ceramic artist Klytie Pate. Designed by the Wallers with an eye to the principles of visionary British designer William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, Waller House’s glorious living space, extant studio and collections of prints, paintings and ceramics reveal an immersive environment that privileges the inherent integrity of the handmade. Following Waller’s death in 1954, Pate inherited many of her aunt’s works and gradually distributed them into public collections, ensuring their posterity and an intertwining legacy between the two artists.
(1) Entitled ‘The Woman of the Faery’, the story draft is written in the artist’s hand and is 1154 words. The author has applied some minor grammatical edits to the excerpts. Christian Waller’s journal, c 1930s, Beleura House & Garden collection, Mornington.
(2) Though one complete copy of The gates of dawn was struck, neither story was formally published in her lifetime. In 1977, Klytie Pate published The gates of dawn through Gryphon Books in Melbourne with an edition of 1000.
(3) Caroline Miley, ‘Towards the light: Christian Waller’s stained glass’, in David Thomas, The art of Christian Waller, Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo, 1992 and Emma Busowsky Cox (ed), Daughters of the sun: Christian Waller & Klytie Pate, Bendigo Art Gallery, Bendigo, 2018.
Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Busowsky Cox, Emma. "Christian Waller" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 362-363.