Australian Art


Jean Appleton
Jean Appleton

AKA: Jean Appleton

Born: 1911 Sydney
  • Print Maker
  • Known
  • Established

I interviewed Jean at her Moss Vale home in May 1992 and she is a most charming and gentle lady.
Jean is the only daughter of Charles Appleton and Elizabeth Macredie. She had an older brother, Frederick, and younger brother Ronald. They grew up surrounded by literature and music and Jean does not remember a time that she didn't draw. She attended Haberfield Private School, a small school with no more than one hundred students that went to Intermediate level. Apart from the normal education requirements, it nurtured Theatre, other Arts related subjects and all the things Jean loved. Her only desire being to go to Art School, she went straight from Haberfield to East Sydney Tech (later the National Art School).
It was 1928 when she commenced her five year Diploma Course, her main tutor being Douglas Dundas who took drawing and illustrating. In about 1929, Fred Britton came from Adelaide to East Sydney Tech. Britton, an Englishman, had a great influence on Jean. He was a very fine draughtsman who taught drawing, initially, and later introduced etching to the classes. Jean stated, " ... a very interesting person - he opened our minds to all sorts of things that we hadn't been getting - a great reader and lover of the theatre - he introduced all these other arts to us as well as ordinary routine. That, I think, is essential if you are doing art - you have to broaden your outlook to all other things, so he was a great asset." Fred Britton died before Jean completed her course. Other than that, Jean found the teaching not terribly exciting. Upon gaining her Diploma of Drawing and Illustration in 1932, her one desire was to get to London. She had several attempts at the NSW Government Travelling Scholarship but was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, she was also working quite hard doing textile designs
which earned her some income. Jean's father died in 1935. Her mother, though quiet and unassuming, was a wonderful person, very forward looking and offered Jean a small allowance of three pounds a week for two years to enable her to survive in London. Jean had saved her boat fare, so with the allowance, she headed for England in 1936.
She enrolled at the Westminster School of Art, considering that quite the best. The Headmaster, a Scotsman by the name of Kirkland Jamieson, had a marvellous genius for selecting interesting and stimulating staff. Two of her main tutors were Mark Gertler and Bernard Meninsky. Meninsky had gained quite a reputation as a most inspiring drawing teacher, especially amonst Australians. Other Australians there at the same time as Jean were John Passmore, Donald Friend, Paul Haefliger, Jean Bellette and Jimmy Cook (later to become the Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia). Mark Gertler was considered a genius. He had gone to the Slade School at the age of thirteen. From a very poor background, someone had "noticed" him and he became much socially sought after. He was tied up with the Bloomsbury Set. The dark clouds of war were looming on the horizon. Both Gertler and Meninsky were Jewish and the gloom and foreboding weighed heavily with everyone. The Second World War had a major impact on Jean. Reluctantly and unwilling she returned to Australia mid-1939. Not having had any actual work experience, Jean found it difficult to work and finally managed to teach at the Church of England Girls' Grammar School in Canberra for two terms.
In 1941, she became interested in assisting with the War effort. She wanted to do a course in Occupational Therapy but the course was fIlled. The Director badly needed assistance. so Jean volunteered to help her and was rewarded by being given a full time position by the end of the year, and remained there until 1945.
Whilst in London, Jean had briefly met an up-and-coming artist by the name of Eric Wilson. They met again in Sydney. Romanced blossomed and they were married in 1943. In 1946, Eric became unwell and after diagnosis he was found to have a well-advanced cancer of the bladder. He died a fortnight later. In 1983, Eric Wilson's works were shown retrospectively at the Newcastle Gallery, moving on to Banyule in Victoria and then to the Art Gallery of Queensland.
Jean feels that " ... she had lost her way" in the decade between 1940 and 1950. She attributes .this to leaving England when she didn't want to, hearing of Gertler's and Meninsky's suicides, and the death of her husband, Eric. Despite that, Jean had her first Exhibition at the Macquarie Galleries in 1940. Her second exhibition was there again in 1949.
From 1945 to 1956, she taught and lectured at the Julian Ashton Art School, National Art School, the Art Gallery of NSW and schools attached thereto. In 1943, she was elected to the Membership of the Society of Artists' "Contemporary Group".
There she made enduring friendships with other painters whose early influences were the same as hers. Amongst them were Roland Wakelin, Lloyd Rees, Grace Cossinton Smith, Enid Cambridge and Thea Proctor. Through her first husband, she also met and become acquainted with Margaret Preston and her husband, William George Preston.
Some time in 1948/49, she met artist Tom Green. An Englishman, Tom returned to England. Jean was longing to get back to Europe and took the chance of going by 'plane. Godfrey Miller espoused the virtues of air travel simply because it saved just so much time. In 1951, she took the opportunity and spent our summer in London, wintering in Paris, the south of France, Florence and Rome. She again met Tom Green. They married in 1952 in Sydney. In 1953, at the age of forty two, Jean gave birth to a daughter, Elisabeth Madeleine Green. Jean was revitalised and the next twenty years were filled with a passion to work. A survey of her work was exhibited at the Robyn Brady Pty. Ltd. Gallery in 1989 and Fiona McIntosh wrote in notes accompanying the Biography, " ... that Appleton's output reached a highpoint in the late 1950s, early 1960s", and "This appears to be the time that she isolated in her works what she so admired in Cezanne".
Jean has had fifteen Solo Exhibitions, but only one in Victoria. In 1985, she exhibited with the Jim Alexander Gallery, Melbourne. She has won art prizes, including the Portia Geach Memorial Award for Portraiture. She has exhibited in group exhibitions six times, including three with Tom Green, her second husband. In 1956, Jean became interested in Printmaking. She concentrated on screenprints, as she didn't have a press. In 1968, she was represented in the Print Council of Australia Exhibition. She ceased doing prints in 1980.
She is represented in all National Galleries except Tasmania, also the New Zealand Art Gallery, as well as Auckland, six Regional Galleries, a number of University and Teachers' College collections, and numerous private collections.
Jean is presently 81 years of age. She is self reliant and presently working on a commissioned work. Jean Appleton is an assured yet modest lady who deserves to be recognised as one of our most significant living artists.
Source: Interview by Willi Carney, 18th May 1992.


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