AKA: Ludmilla Krastins
Born: 1908 Baldone, Latvia
Ludmilla Meilerts was born Ludmilla Krastins in Rural Latvia near the town of Baldone, the eleventh child of twelve children.
During her school years she displayed an early talent for music and art. In later years during moments of relaxation she would play the piano, including pieces by her favourite composer Beethoven. She also enjoyed singing and was an active member of the Latvian Choral Society in Melbourne for many years.
She attended Riga High School going on to Riga Teachers College from where she graduated and obtained employment as a Librarian. Earning a salary allowed her to commence studies at the Latvian Academy of Fine Arts where her strength in figure drawing and portraiture became apparent, although later she was to major in landscape painting. An important influence at this time was Professor Wilhelm Purvitis, founder of the academy and known as a follower of the French Impressionist School.
Ludmilla's Biographer, Valentins Sloss, states the impressionist concepts of observing nature analytically, with regard to light and colour suited Ludmilla's temperament perfectly. Sloss reports that even as a student Ludmilla worked prolifically, arriving at the commencement of term, after a holiday period "in a horse-drawn cart full of her paintings". Her diploma work for her final year assessment was painted from a second floor story cafe in Riga, overlooking two main thorough fares of the city. The painting was aptly titled "The City Of Riga" and indicated an emergence of light and colour that later became her hallmark. Ludmilla graduated from the academy in 1940.
Later that year in the midst of wartime turmoil she married Otto Meilerts, an economist with an interest in the arts. Rather than live under Soviet occupation the Meilerts fled to Stuttgart, an American occupied part of Germany. Despite the difficulties of living in a refugee camp, Ludmilla continued to paint. With amazing determination she organised her first solo exhibition in Stuttgart in 1946, an exhibition which received critical acclaim at the time. The difference of the colour in her German period was due to the Nordic hues as distinct from the Latvian brightness. Her former academy teacher Professor Augusts Annuss commenting: 'the harsh and unusual life of emigration could not obliterate the optimistic light of her paintings'.
In February 1948 Ludmilla and Otto came as assisted migrants to Australia and became bonded to the Australian Government. Ludmilla was put to work as a nurse's aid at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, still continuing to paint in her spare time. Even the hospital grounds provided inspiration and subject matter for her paintings. Later that year Ludmilla was exhibiting with the Victorian Arts Society (VAS.) together with George Bell and Margaret alley. Encouraged by Daryl Lindsay she held her first Australian solo exhibition at the Georges Gallery, Melbourne in April 1949. During 1950, from two separate exhibitions the National Gallery of Victoria acquired two of her works.
As it is difficult for any but the most acclaimed Australian artists to earn a living from painting full-time, Ludmilla was obliged to continue to work at the hospital. Once the obligation had been fulfilled she left and took up machining at a clothing factory. She still found the energy to paint whenever time allowed and continued to exhibit. A critic from the "Argus" wrote in 1949: 'Ludmilla Meilerts shows that beauty and charm can be painted by modern methods. Most shows of modern art here have given the impression that ugliness, rather than beauty was the aim. Mrs. Meilerts paints in bright colours and with a masterly technique which enables her to paint landscapes and flowers with equal facility and grace'.
Ludmilla enjoyed the Melbourne dock area and painted there in all manner of weather. She would work her way from Princess Bridge to Port Melbourne befriending many a "wharfie" and on occasions accepting their hospitality to join them for lunch.
In total Ludmilla has held twelve solo shows in Australia. Reviews have described her work as "distinctive", "vital" and of showing "the value of a fresh approach to the Australian Landscape".
As well as belonging to the VAS. she was also a member of the Melbourne Society of woman painters and sculptors.
Major prizes awarded to Ludmilla have included the Dunlop prize in 1952. The Gosford Art Prize 1971, Camberwell1973, and the VAS. Purstitz Gold Medal 1982. She is represented in State Galleries of Victoria, N.S.W, Tasmania, WA.; Regional Galleries of Bendigo, Gosford, La Trobe Valley and Portland.
Ludmilla presently resides at the Latvian Retirement Village in Melbourne and sadly has advanced Alzheimer’s Disease.
Ludmilla has many wonderful friends amongst the Latvian Community and a group of them published a book in her name in 1987, simply called "Meilerts".
Sir William Dargie in the preface states in part: 'The work of Ludmilla Meilerts is a celebration of life. It is a statement of joy in colour and an aesthetic involvement in "The Floating World" of contemporary visual experience which to the end of the artists active life shows no diminution of a zest one usually associates only with youth'.
Source: V Bendrups
V Sloss. "Meilerts". 1987. Self Published.