Violet Teague by Jane Clark
Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).
A young Australian woman, Margaret Alice Bartrop, known to family and friends as Mab, stands on a momentous threshold: looking forward to the new century, a new nation and her own new life. She is 24, a university graduate, a keen sportswoman, living with her parents in the comfortable Melbourne suburb of Armadale. The vase at her side holds oak leaves, symbolic of patience and potential, and her namesake daisies, yellow marguerites, for innocence and new beginnings.
It is 1900. Violet Teague has prominently inscribed the date under her sitter’s name in the style of a Renaissance portrait. Lawn tennis is enormously popular, with Victorian championships begun only three years after the first Wimbledon tournament. Australian women are agitating for the vote. On 17 September that year, Queen Victoria will sign a document creating the Commonwealth of Australia. Two days later, Miss Bartrop will become Mrs Aubrey Hastings Parker, marrying a friend from her university college, Trinity, who has joined the Indian Civil Service.
Much journalistic ink was spilled around 1900 on the nature of ‘The Australian Woman’. Was she ‘a distinct species’? Did she move across the court ‘more intent upon flirtation than tennis’? In The Lady, one writer avowed, ‘The Australian woman is the most interesting product of the Sunny South’. Mab Bartrop was declared a ‘sweet girl graduate’, ‘one of the brightest of the city’s rosebud garden of girls’.(1) She was also, of course, a child of Empire. In the Punjab Province, where Aubrey was a British colonial magistrate, she travelled with him from station to station, living in a tent.(2)
Violet Teague was, likewise, an adventurous world citizen, confident and competent in all she undertook. Born in Melbourne, she first travelled to Europe as a child with her cosmopolitan stepmother. She was there again from 1889 until 1895, visiting the great galleries of Europe where she especially admired portraits by Diego Velazquez, Anthony van Dyck and Thomas Gainsborough.
She trained as a German language teacher before studying art as her career, in Brussels and London; then, back in Melbourne, at the National Gallery School and the ‘Charterisville’ summer painting school run by Emanuel Phillips Fox—whose influence shows here in both composition and colouring.(3) Her emphasis on tonal arrangement in Margaret Alice owes much also to James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent.
Teague won international medals for portraits exhibited in Europe and America. Local critics recognised her professional ambition and admired her ‘wonderful power of expressing the character of her sitters’.(4) Her work ranged from exquisite japoniste woodblock prints to large‑scale murals and altarpieces. In 1933 she went by car to Central Australia with her sister Una, introducing Albert Namatjira to watercolours at Hermannsburg Mission; and in 1935, at the age of 63, she joined a four‑month sailing voyage from Melbourne to Sweden—painting all the way.
(1) ‘The Australian Woman’, The Sketch, 4 September 1895, reprinted in various Australian papers; Grace Neill, ‘The Australian Girl’, The Antipodean, 1893; anonymous writer in The Lady, 1893; Viva, ‘Melbourne Gossip’, Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser, 20 October 1900, p 913, quoting Max O’Rell.
(2) Margaret left Melbourne on 28 August, married Aubrey in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) on 19 September, then departed almost immediately for northern India. See ‘Ladies’ Letters’, Punch, Melbourne, 20 December 1900, p 16.
(3) For a detailed study of her life, work and reputation, see Jane Clark and Felicity Druce et al, Violet Teague 1872–1951, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 1999.
(4) The Sydney Mail, 31 October 1896. The nationalistic and masculine Bulletin, on the other hand, considered some of her subjects too female and too stylised and, by the 1920s, ‘old-fashioned’.
Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Clark, Jane. "Violet Teague" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 340-341.
JANE CLARKE is is Senior Research Curator, MONA (Museum of Old and New Art), Hobart.