Monday, 4 May 2015

Julia Woodhouse

Margaret Flockton's 91-yr-old great niece Julia Woodhouse visited the Margaret Flockton Award Exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden's Maiden Theatre in Sydney today. The exhibition runs daily until next Sunday, 10am-4pm, showcasing stunning scientific botanical illustrations of artists from around the world..

Julia is another in the long line of strong, independent Flockton women who have lived to a great age. Margaret herself died in Sydney in 1953, about 6 weeks before her 92nd birthday.

Julia, who has facilitated and revelled in the revival of Margaret's reputation as a botanical artist, is herself a talented artist, although she no longer paints. She is proud that her beloved Aunt Mog was her first art teacher, the lessons held on a weekly basis at 'Tulagi' in the 1930s.

While still at school, as Julia Dennis, she entered a Sydney-wide open-age art competition, at her mother's insistence, and won. The prize was an easel which she used all her life.

In 1940, at the age of 16, she undertook an Introductory Art Course at the East Sydney Technical College, a.k.a. the National Art School at Darlinghurst in Sydney. During her two years at the National Art School her teachers included William Dobell, whose subject was Plant and Nature Drawing, and who came to classes wearing a pin-striped lounge suit with tie. At one point he asked to borrow some of Julia’s flower paintings to show a friend. She had used poster paint, instead of the usual water colours or oils. Mr Vacchini was her teacher for quick sketching, G K Townshend for composition. She can’t recall whether these were her teachers who wore berets and smocks, apeing the Parisian style. Another influence was Desiderius Orban who advised her to forsake the sound but somewhat formal techniques then taught at this School.

She recalls having two teachers for drawing and painting, one being E M Smith, an oldish man who came to classes in a black suit, shiny with age. At one point, after Julia had inadvertently suffered a particularly short and perhaps unflattering haircut, Smith defended Julia from the ridicule of her fellow students, informing them that ‘she might have short hair but she’s still got the same face’. Students sat on a donkey stool in Smith’s class, drawing statues and other subjects they considered to be boring.

Drawing from life was restricted to the more advanced students. Julia and another student named Emmy Nagy felt honoured when they were promoted to several life classes taught by Ernest Badham. (Emmy's brother Gabriel Nagy, a medical student, knew that Julia liked to swim laps at Greenwich Baths at high tide, and he often used to come at that time to watch her swim.)

There was nothing memorable about Herbert Badham’s attire, but at one of his lessons in portrait painting, Badham selected Julia to act as the model and she was too shy to say ‘no’. He asked her to wear her ribbon and pendant for the portrait, and the jewellery is still a prized possession. After demonstrating his technique to the class, he gave his (unsigned) portrait of Julia to her. She put it in her art folio at home and there it stayed for 70 years until it was rediscovered by one of her daughters, who said ‘I really like this, you have to get this framed, Mum’.

Julia won a three year scholarship to continue her art studies. But she felt morally obliged to make a contribution to the war effort, so she took up draughting at the Cockatoo Dockyard in Sydney. After her marriage to Geoffrey Woodhouse in 1944, she worked for a period at the Department of Aircraft Production at Fishermen's Bend in Melbourne before returning to Sydney in 1946. Much later, when her four daughters were teenagers, she worked again as a draughtswoman for Phillips and other electrical engineering companies in Sydney.

Meanwhile, her innate creativeness was utilised in designing her home at Newport, overlooking Pittwater in Sydney, and in making artistic use of flowers and art throughout the house. After visiting major galleries during her first trip overseas in 1981, a friend was able to convince her to recommence her art lessons and she resumed painting part-time.

At long last, in 1990, a year after the death of her husband of 45 years, she began venturing full-time again along a path she began to tread fifty years before. She displayed her work publicly for the first time and sold watercolours at an exhibition in Balmain, Sydney. The same year she had her first solo exhibition at the Ciclopii Gallery in High Street, Armadale (Melbourne). In 1991 she had a second, larger and even more successful solo exhibition at the Riverview Hotel, Balmain in Sydney. She almost abandoned thoughts of an artistic career when she had a serious car accident in 1992. But eventually she recovered enough to produce work for her third very successful solo exhibition at Wellers Restaurant at Kangaroo Ground in Melbourne, featuring aspects of life in Melbourne: people, gardens, the Yarra, farms.

For some years she belonged to a group of artists painting Sydney bushland and Pittwater/Hawkesbury landscape scenes. Later she painted with Cynthia Hundleby at Genifer Williams’ studio. Julia’s watercolours are painted from life, and are usually painted in one sitting, while the mood lasts. When using oils, she prefers figure paintings (especially rear views) and portraits as subjects. Her subjects mean something to her, being based on her friends and relations and her own environment. The picture of three of her four daughters is a case in point.

Julia belongs to a family of artists. Her great grandparents were the English artists Francis Stephen Flockton and Isabel Mary Flockton. Her great aunt was the well-known Sydney artist Margaret Lilian Flockton. Her mother’s cousin was the artist Phyllis Flockton Clarke. Her great nephew is the Newcastle artist Andrew Gordon Dennis.

P.S. Please contact Louise Wilson if you wish your name to be added to the waiting list for the forthcoming biography of Margaret Flockton, A Fragrant Memory.

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