Australian Art


Alice Bale
Alice Bale

AKA: Alice Bale

Born: 1875 Melbourne

Died: 1955
  • Painter
  • Portrait

Alice was the only child of William Mountier Bale and Marian Adams. William was Chief Inspector of Customs, as well as a Naturalist of some repute, specialising in Hydroids. Marian, a woman of taste, had a flair of collecting antiques and costumes. They lived with William's parents in Richmond until Alice was about seven years of age. They then moved to Williamstown for two years, then Hawthorn for a short time, finally settling in Walpole Street, Kew in 1886. Whilst living with her grandparents, Alice attended the Erin Street State School in Richmond. From 1885 until 1892, she was a pupil at the Methodist Ladies' College where she excelled in Music and Literature. Throughout her life, music remained dear to her, playing the piano for relaxation until the end of her days. She did not, however, avail herself of the tuition available in painting and drawing

at MLC. She had decided at a very young age that she wanted to be an artist and in 1892, took private lessons from May Vale and some from Hugh Ramsay.
May Vale had returned from Europe in 1892 whereupon she established a studio in Swanston Street, Melbourne. She had a considerable reputation as a competent artist and a portrait painter of note. She was also a member of the Victorian Women's Suffrage Society. Alice, for both those reasons, chose to study with May. During her time at the Vale Studio, Alice was considered as being on of the most outstanding pupils.
She was elected to Membership of the Victorian Artists' Society in 1894, which was before she enrolled at the Gallery School in 1895. There she studied under Bernard Hall and Fred McCubbin. Her first picture to be hung at a Victorian Artists' Society Exhibition, "Corner of the Studio", was done when she was only twenty-one years of age. During her years at the Gallery School, Alice won nine major prizes, a record only exceeded by one other student, Charles Wheeler. In 1902, Alice came fourth in a Travelling Scholarship awarded by the National Gallery. She remarked to the effect that " ... being an only daughter, overseas travel would have been impractical." From 1905 on, she was a member of and exhibited with the Women's Art Club (renamed the Melbourne Society of Women Painters 1920). She edited the Journal of the Victorian Artists' Society from March 1918 until its last issue in . February 1919.
She served two terms as a Council member with the Victorian Artists' Society, the first in 1914 and the second eventful term from October 1916 to November 1918. Max Meldrum was the President during the latter term and the events arising from that term caused the Meldrum supporters to exit from the SocietY. From those supporters was born "The Twenty Melbourne Painters". Jo Sweatman and Ruth Sutherland were the prime movers and Alice became its first Secretary, and remained in that position from 36 years. In the drawing up of the origin and aim of "The Twenty Melbourne Painters", Alice wrote: "We desire nothing but sincerity and a humble study of nature, from which alone all art, whether decorative or realistic, draws any enduring life." She was no shrinking violet. She gained a reputation as a

" ... determined fighter for her beliefs in life and art".
Alice's mother died in 1915. Alice had always been an attentive daughter and continued to be a companion to her father until his death in 1940, by which time she was sixty-four years of age.
In 1922, the National Gallery of Victoria purchased her work "Scabiosa". Colour reproduction prints of this work was for years one of the very few available from the National Gallery of Victoria. Alice never left Victoria and painted either at Kew or another family property at Castlemaine. She, along with Elsie Barlow as well as many other women (including the Leviny's) played an important part in the formation of the Castlemaine Art Gallery.
It is recorded at the Castlemaine Gallery and Historical Museum, that she often advised on the suitability or otherwise of works for the collection. In 1930, she was responsible for the purchase of four worksby Louis Buvelot at a most nominal cost. Many other works of high standard owe their presence there to the judgement of Alice Bale. Being the forthright person she was, and formidable in controversy, she wrote many letters to newspapers and in Castlemaine, the axing of a tree caused her pen to work overtime. She also challenged the

selection of the picture for the 1923 London Exhibition, the appointment of a new Director, as also purchases made by the
National Gallery of Victoria and modernism in art. In 1923, two of her paintings were hung in the Exhibition of Australian Art in London. In 1933, her portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Hampel was hung at the Royal Academy, and in 1939, her "Portrait of a Lady" was exhibited at the "Salon" in Paris. During her career she had four solo exhibitions, two shows with Jo Sweatman and one show each with Victor Cobb and Bernice Edwell. She also participated in eleven group and mixed exhibitions.
She was also the recipient of at least ten awards and prizes. She is represented in all major State Galleries, except Western Australia and Tasmania, and four Provincial Galleries. Alice died at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in February 1955 after an operation for cancer. Her will, in the hands of the Perpetual Trustees, directed that an Art Scholarship be set up. A committee of three artists had to be appointed to guide the Trustees in the selection process. "Applicants must be followers of traditional art and either British Nationals or Australian Aboriginals. Preference is given to males of good character, without age limit." I found the sentence giving preference to males a little difficult to understand, in view of Alice's early suppqrt to May Vale's stance with the Suffragette Movement. That was until I read in "Completing the Picture" by Juliet Peers and Victoria Hammond, that the Castlemaine property was left for use by women artists of the Castlemaine Region.
Despite the forthrightness and assertive spirit of Alice Bale, she was still very much of an era where segregated clubs were part of the social scene and expectation. It is obvious that Alice was an adherent of the more conservative school so that, combined with the social reality of the time, she allocated her estate in the fairest manner possible for that era. Unfortunately, her wishes for the Castlemaine property never eventuated. Her Trustees (Perpetual Trustees Victoria Pty. Ltd.) found the trusts relating to it "inadequately drafted and inoperable". The matter was brought to a conclusion upon the advice of Sir James Tait, Q.C., who was advising the Trustees back in 1955, resulting in the sale of the property. In 1979, the Trustees in concurrence with the Art Committee, made application to the Courts to vary the terms of the Scholarship. in February 1981, the Court Order was made which allowed for the sale of the Kew property. This then provided for the "Alice Bale Art Award Education and Travelling Scholarship - $40,000" as it stands today. Since that time, three women artists have been recipients of the Award.
Sir William Dargie is one of the three artists on the Art Committee and has been there since its inception. He was personally acquainted with Alice, so it would be fair to assume that philosophically he understood her intentions, and with the changing times, has assisted the Trustees to develop an award that is justifiable for today's world.

Alice Bale's wishes to provide for and assist artists goes on, and there is no doubt that from 1905 until 1930, she was one of the strongest and well known artists of the period.
Source: Castlemaine Art Gallery
Joyce McGrath. ex state Librarian
Perpetual Trustees
Secondary Source: Peers & Hammond "Completing the Picture"


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