AKA: Edith Alsop
Born: 1871 Melbourne
- Print Maker
- Water Colour
Edith was one of three daughters and four sons born to John Alsop and Ann Howard. The family grew up in Studley Park Road, Kew. The property was called "Darley" after Darley Dale in Derbyshire, England, from where John Alsop had come. They appear to have been a very close-knit family, embracing art, music and literature as part of lifestyle. Edith was the oldest of the girls and was educated at Ruyton Girls' School, where she concentrated on music and painting. Nurtured by her parents to pursue her interest in Art, her father provided her with a studio at "Darley". Edith's sisters, Florence and Ruth, were more musically inclined. Florence became a journalist and Ruth an Architect.
In the second term of 1898, Edith joined the National Gallery School. In 1899 the family visited Europe and upon their return to Australia in 1900, she rejoined the National Gallery School and remained there, on and off, until 1905. In October of 1904, Edith was awarded second prize in the anatomical figure section in the National Gallery Exhibition of students' works. In November of 1918, Edith was one of the artists chosen to paint one panel of a calendar to be presented to Queen Victoria. When John Alsop retired, his youngest song, Rodney, also an Architect of some renown, designed a new home which was built in Toorak. Included once again, was a studio for Edith. The three girls never married. They looked after their parents until they died. Florence, in fact, kept a journal from which quite a lot of information for this article was sourced. According to Florence, Ruth gave up working as an architect to become the reliable one of the three to run the household.
After the death of their parents and the ultimate resolution of the estate, the three young ladies headed for Europe. They were gone for over three•and a half years (1928-1931). What comes through in the journal is that they were comfortable but money was not in great abundance. They lodged mainly in rooms and on some occasions, convents. Florence and Ruth partook of concerts, musical soirees, as well as some music classes. Edith on some occasions went with her sisters, but usually went her own way, always drawing or sketching and visiting all major galleries. One afternoon they were at Harrow on the Hill, being shown about by an old Harrovian Colonel. Florence quotes - "On some of these seats we sat - Edith of course with her paper and pencil. We were embarrassingly near the boys who found it difficult to sing at such close quarters. They took a violent interest in the lightning sketches, crowding around us after the singing was over to see the results."
"One charming youth, the centre of his group, was particularly intrigued, so much so, that Edith promised to send him a copy when she went back to London. This she did with her card in which she wrote 'Remembering a pleasant afternoon".
Whilst in France, Edith studied under Andre Lhote. Florence quotes: "Edith had some shocks when she was studying with Andre Lhote. One morning, this noted French artist disappeared behind a screen, then suddenly emerged arm in arm with a nude negress, whom he escorted to the platform, where he placed her in position. In his studio, models were always posed on Monday morning. The students worked along until the following Friday when Lhote came again. He criticised each student's work in turn, the whole class following to hear what he had to say." Whilst in London, Edith studied wood engraving at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. In Rome, she had worked for the British Academy.
Upon her return to Melbourne, in 1931, Edith organised an exhibition of her European works at the Everyman's Lending Library in Collins Street Melbourne. She received several rather bland write-ups, except for that of George Bell, who commented: "The point of view is new in this country and very refreshing ... especially good is the one oil painting of a French girl which is most impressive and makes one look for further work in this medium."
Edith exhibited for many years with the Victorian Artists' Society and it is obvious from exhibition catalogues that she painted quite an amount of Portraits. She was also an exhibitor with the Yarra Sculptors' Society and the Lyceum Club. Some of her contemporaries at that time were George Bell, William Frater, Ethel Spowers, Ada Plante, Isobel Tweddle, Marjorie Rankin, Jessica MacKintosh, Eric Thake, and her lifelong friend, Evelyn Syme. In June of 1939, she showed two works at the Inaugural Exhibition of the Contemporary Art Society held at the National Gallery, Melbourne. She was also a member of the Independent Group of Artists and had been a member of the Council of the Arts and Crafts Society.
Some time in the mid to late 30s, the three sisters decided they wanted to live in the country. They purchased land at Croydon. Ruth designed a cottage which was called "Darley Dale". It was completed just as World War Two appeared on the horizon. Edith never stopped working. During her latter years, her friend Evelyn Syme used to come for the weekend, staying at a well known, comfortable boarding house nearby called "Sunningdale". The two would spend the whole weekend going into the bush and painting. Edith worked in her studio right up until her death in 1958. An oil of the "Boathouse at Sorrento" by Edith hangs in the Janet Clarke Hall at Melbourne University and some of her prints are in the possession of the National Gallery in Canberra.
The University of Melbourne Museum of Art also has a large collection of her watercolours, pastels, drawings and prints. She seems to have had quite an output of works and where they all are, remains a mystery to unravel. A Great-Nephew, David Alsop, has in his possession two superb etchings done by Edith of her parents. They are extremely competent and expertly rendered. Edith Alsop was indeed a very talented lady.
Sources: David Alsop
Florence Alsop Journal
Secondary Sources: Yvonne Aitken