Clarice Marjoribanks Beckett

Clarice-Marjoribanks-BeckettQueen’s College 1900 – 1903

  • Pioneering Australian Painter
  • Deceased 1935

Clarice was the daughter of Joseph Clifden Beckett, and his wife Elizabeth Kate, née Brown. Her maternal grandfather was John Brown, a Scottish master builder who bought and designed the additions to Como House, Melbourne. Clarice revealed an exceptional drawing ability and was a fine literary student at Queen’s College, Ballarat. She wrote a play, including a part for herself, which was performed by the students. A family move meant that she completed her final year at Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School. Refusing to marry young, she eventually received parental permission to study with Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery School, Melbourne. Completing the three years, she then studied under Max Meldrum, and from 1918 she lived with her parents in the bayside suburb of Beaumaris until her tragic death in 1935.

Between 1923 and 1933 Clarice held ten large exhibitions of en plein air landscape paintings of Melbourne city, suburbs and bayside beaches. Despite a remarkable amount of press coverage, she was forgotten after her death, yet her dedication to her work was legendary in her lifetime. So too was her unusual language in paint with its pared back approach to form, and the development of her technique of ‘lost’ edges, while her choice of subject matter was often considered unusual. She could translate a wet tar sealed road, bordered by telegraph poles into a breathing, atmospheric, luminous reality, stated as honestly as paint would allow. She endowed commonplace objects like trams, cars, and corner shops with an unusual emotional resonance through her own personal alchemy, and her paintings of subtle sunsets, bayside beaches with gently felt figures, boats. bathing boxes and boatsheds, reveal eternal truths when quietly viewed.

Clarice was noted to have made even the common road respectable in art, and her contemporary style was heralded as achieving what the modern writers of the era were just beginning to attempt. She caught a haunting sense of place with a poetic lyricism which sets her apart from her contemporaries, and her images remain modern to the eye, to this day. In her last years she experimented with aspects of modernism from the late 1920s, but most of these works were destroyed.

It was only after the discovery, in 1970, of a large number of her works abandoned in a hayshed in rural Victoria, and the tireless perseverance of Rosalind Hollinrake, that the significance of the contribution of Clarice Beckett to Australian art was realised. Rosalind curated the exhibition, “Clarice Beckett- Politically Incorrect”, at Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, in December, 1999. Clarice is a significant figure in Australia’s early modern art history, and her work is now represented in most state and regional galleries.

Ballarat Grammar celebrates the work of Clarice Beckett by awarding the Clarice Beckett Prize annually to the student who best demonstrates academic excellence through outstanding achievement in the study of Art at VCE level.