Lina Bryans was born in Europe but her parents were Australian. Bryans was a Hallenstein whose family had made their money from a successful tannery and leather business in Melbourne. Her maternal great-grandfather, Sir Benjamin Benjamin, had been Lord Mayor of Melbourne in the 1880s.
The family moved from St Kilda to South Yarra in the 1910s and Lina and her sister Margaret were one of the first students to enroll at the new St Catherine’s school in Toorak with the motto “Nothing great unless good”.
Lina’s art teacher was painter Walter Wither’s daughter Margery. So you can see Lina grew up among the arts. The Hellenstein family saw the world of music, painting, theatre as part of everyday life.
After living in Sydney for a while, she came back to Melbourne and did what good girls do – got married to local boy Baynham Bryans and had a baby. The marriage lasted three years. Lina Bryans then moved with her small son to a flat in South Yarra. A single mother in the 1930s.
Here she is on the steps of the Melbourne Library in 1937.
| Lina Bryans and her son Edward on the steps of the Melbourne Public Library, c1937 |
It was around this time that Bryans met the modernist painter and stain glass designer William (Jock) Frater.
This Frater portrait of Lina presents an elegant Bryans with her pale skin and red hat. A liberated woman with a direct gaze.
| William Frater, The Red Hat, 1937, oil on canvas, 91.2 x 71.2cm |
She moved into town and began painting with Frater. All very radical for the time.
Artist John Brack recalls his decision to become an artist came about when one day he saw the striking couple promenading down Collins Street.
Lina Bryans: Rare Modern 1909-2000, Gillian Forwood