Margaret Preston (1875 - 1963)

Margaret Preston played a significant role in the formulation of Australian Modernism, working not only as a painter, and wood- and lino-cut printer, but also as an influential teacher of both practical and theoretical art. An acclaimed figure of the Sydney art scene from the 1920s onwards, it is significant that she was the only other woman apart from Thea Proctor to be featured in Sydney Ure Smith’s Art in Australia magazine during the first half of the twentieth century. Preston was also the first female artist commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales to paint a self-portrait in 1929, and later gained international recognition in 1937 when she was awarded a Silver Medal at the Paris International Exhibition.

Preston travelled extensively throughout Australia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Pacific Islands. Unlike the restricted urbanity of many Sydney Modernists, her art reflects the influences of these cultural experiences. Her works display elements of Japanese and Chinese principles of design, primitivism and, foremostly, European Modernism, which she explored during her travels and instruction in Paris, Munich and London.

During the interwar period, Preston was increasingly influenced by Australian indigenous art, believing that it was only through Aboriginal visual culture that we would be able to create a truly national artistic identity. It is noteworthy that Preston was essentially the first artist to recognise the importance of the Australian primitive aesthetic, employing flattened planes, strong forms and eliminating highlights in her works. She brought this economical, graphic analysis of form into the domestic sphere, validating the domestic sphere through modernist execution.
Works such as her richly coloured still-lifes adorned with native flowers, and bold landscapes marked by a particularly decorative exploration of medium, are represented in the National Gallery and a number of state, regional and public collections throughout Australia, and are recognised by connoisseurs as key works of the Australia’s Modernist movement.

For more information, click here to visit the official Margaret Preston site. This link is included with kind permission from Tom Thompson of ETT Imprint - the publisher of Margaret Preston (Elizabeth Butel, ETT Imprint, 2003).