Mary Cecil Allen

Melbourne born Mary Cecil Allen was a very well known artist and educator from the 1930s who after her death was another one of those ladies sidelined by art historians.

Another connection to the George Bell school. Not a student, but a visiting lecturer in 1935. While she was visiting from USA, she also had the time to give classes at Preshil school and lecture to audiences of up to a thousand people on modern art at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Allen was a good friend of Maie Casey, an ambassador’s wife, which led to her creating this Kangaroo Screen for their Washington dining room where they were about to take up residence. Allen painted the screen in the Casey’s New York apartment. Allen visited the Kangaroos at the Bronx Zoo to do her preparatory studies for this screen.

| Mary Cecil Allen, Screen, five panels, a design of seven kangaroos 1941, Australian National Gallery |

The National Gallery of Victoria purchased Sea Studio: winter in 1950.

| Mary Cecil Allen, Sea studio: winter c 1949-50, National Gallery of Victoria |

A nice inside outside landscape with lots of intersecting and overlapping surfaces.

And here is the lady herself in a jazzy 1920s shot.

| Mary Cecil Allen, c1920 |

The boorish Sir Daryl Lindsay (director of the National Gallery of Victoria) shows his disdain for lady painters: “Today there are more women than men painters. They have more leisure, and the superficial nature of modern painting attracts their light hands: picture or hat, all is one. Living close to the moment, and accustomed to follow without questioning any and every mode, they find all styles equally pleasant which have been pronounced ‘advanced’ and ‘the thing’… No exposition of this general attitude of women in modern art could make this clearer than the show of Miss Mary Allen in 1935, when she exhibited works that were lightly rooted in a dozen different sources.”

Well, pardon me.

Julia Ritson

Classical Modernism: The George Bell Circle, Felicity St John Moore, NGV catalogue, 1992
Mary Cecil Allen: Modernism and Modernity in Melbourne 1935-1960 , Anne Rees, Melbourne Art Journal, 2010

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