Christian Yandell-Waller

Christian Yandell-Waller Biography  (1894-1954)

Painter, printmaker and stained-glass designer and maker, was born on 2 August 1894 in Castlemaine, Victoria, youngest of the seven children of a plasterer, William Edward Yandell (who died in 1899), and Emily St Clair, née James. From 1905 she studied painting at the local School of Mines under Carl Steiner. In 1909, the year after she moved to Bendigo with her family, the fourteen year old prodigy had her oil painting, A Petition (a Greek scene in the manner of Alma Tadema featuring her sister Florence), hung in the Bendigo Art Gallery and shown at the Masonic Hall (with her A Lay of Thermopylae ). In 1910 some of her paintings were raffled to help her study at the Melbourne National Gallery Schools and the family moved to Parkville. Christian spent 1910-14 at the School, fellow students including Esther Paterson , Mary Cecil Allen , Marion Jones , Ethel Spowers – and Napier Waller, whom she married on 21 October 1915. She exhibited fantasy works with the Victorian Artists’ Society in 1913-22.

Napier left for France in 1916 and returned in 1917 with his right arm amputated. While he learned to draw with his left hand, Christian supported them with commercial art. In 1922-23 they built a house at 9 Crown Road, Fairy Hills, Ivanhoe. Designed by Harold Desbrowe Annear, its late English Arts and Crafts style was decorated and furnished by the owners in complementary style, including a dining room suite designed by Napier and painted with figures from the Arthurian Legend by Christian. It remained her home for the rest of her life.

Christian illustrated books from 1921, including several published by Edward Vidler (see Sara Levi ). One illustrated in colour and b/w is Australian Fairy Tales(Melbourne: J. Howlett-Ross, 1925) by Hume Cook, then a federal politician (intro. by Billy Hughes PM), with a plot about the battle of the good Prince Waratah, Princess Wattleblossom and fairies against the evil Desert Fairies of the Australian bush (see Muir). She also began to make woodcuts and linocuts and excellent bookplates followed from about 1925 – the first being a linocut for her husband’s books – and theatrical poster designs from about 1928. She began to design stained-glass windows and in 1929 travelled with Napier to England to study their manufacture at Whall & Whall’s, London. They also visited Ireland, home of the Celtic revival, to meet the mystic writers Lord Edward Dunsany and ‘A.E.’ (George William Russell).

Back home in 1930 Waller’s art became far more Art Deco in style and theosophist in content. Her finest printed work, The Great Breath (Melbourne 1932) – seven linocuts (a favourite mystical number) printed on the Wallers’ own hand press and bound in a green folder bearing the theosophical symbol of a dot within a circle – was entirely made by her. She also produced The Gates of Dawn that year. She contributed to Manuscripts , eg no.3 (November 1932), 52, ‘The Woman of Faery’ (pen drawing).

During the 1930s Christian made stained-glass windows in Melbourne, Geelong and at Canowindra and Gilgandra (NSW), often for Anglican churches designed by Louis R. Williams. She travelled to the USA in 1939 to study at the temple of Father Divine and painted murals in New York before returning in April 1940. A mural for Christ Church, Geelong, followed in 1942; but from then on she worked at home on stained-glass windows. In 1948 she was reported to have completed over fifty and have orders for years to come. Her last window was made in 1952, by which time she is said to have designed and made over 65 windows in Victoria. She died on 25 May 1954 and was cremated at the Fawkner Crematorium where in 1937 she had painted a mural, The Robe of Glory .

Images include 7 art deco linocuts from The Great Breath , Golden Arrow Press, Melbourne, 1932 (Bendigo Art Gallery has a set); one of Gates of Dawn originals (book not published until 1978) formerly in the National Trust (NSW) Childhood Collection, now Mitchell Library.

By Joan Kerr, 1995. Design and Art Australia Online