Marie Anne Tuck

Born: 1866

Died: 1947

painter, printmaker and teacher, one of the seven children of Edward Starkey Tuck, a school teacher, and Amy Harriet, née Taylor, was born at Mount Torrens (SA) on 5 September 1866 (though from 1904 onwards she gave her birth year as 1872). For 10 years (1886-96) she studied art part-time in the evenings with James Ashton at Norwood Art School and Adelaide, always with the resolve to study in Paris. To save the fare she worked in a Payneham nursery by day and assisted Ashton with his classes in the evenings. In 1896 she moved to Perth, where she taught art privately. [She was listed as a photographer at 345 St George’s Terrace in 1899 (Alan Davies & Peter Stanbury, The Mechanical Eye in Australia: Photography 1841-1900 , Melbourne 1985), although this seems unlikely]. It took 10 long years to save sufficient money to realise her dream. She finally left for France in 1906.

Tuck worked hard, producing many landscapes, portraits and scenes of daily life, including large-scale works such as Jour de Lessive (Washing Day) (1909, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT), The Gossips (c.1910, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW) and the huge La Poissonnerie (The Fish Market) . When the last was sent back to Adelaide for exhibition with the Society of Arts in 1908, having been shown at the French Salon, it was purchased for 100 guineas by the National Gallery of SA (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, SA.). [Nevertheless, in 1910 an anonymous reviewer of the 9th Federal Exhibition in Adelaide – in ‘The Art of the Year’, Lone Hand 1 April 1910, p. 677, by various ‘art correspondents’ – noted: ‘The work of Miss Marie Tuck is mainly conspicuous for its pretentiousness and faulty drawing’.]

During the winters Tuck studied in the Paris studio of the Australian expatriate painter Rupert Bunny , whom she greatly admired, paying for lessons by cleaning his studio. In Paris Tuck lived at 55 rue du Montparnasse, several buildings along from Bunny. On Bunny’s advice, Tuck left Paris during the summers. 1907 and 1908 she spent in Étaples in Picardy. In the summers of 1909 and 1910 she lived with a family in Brittany, where she travelled around the region painting at Trémalo, Concarneau, Pont-Aven, Quimper and Royan. Some of Tuck’s finest works were produced during these summers, including Dressing the Bride, a painting that was awarded an honourable mention at the 1911 Salon.

From 1910 to 1914 Tuck returned to Étaples to join the artists’ colony active between 1900 and the outbreak of the First World War. She resided at Le Boulevard Billiet. Thirty Australian artists joined the colony at some stage during this period. Étaples was a small fishing village in the north of France near Boulogne-sur-Mer and Le Touquet, on the estuary of the Canche, close to the Straits of Dover. For Tuck, this period was a particularly productive one, resulting in many fine étalois paintings. Between 1906 and 1912 the Société des Artistes Français (Old Salon) hung seven of her paintings.

Commissioned to paint a series of biblical pictures for Rheims Cathedral, these were completed on her return to Adelaide in 1919, then packed up and sent back to France. Unfortunately they were destroyed during the Second World War when the Cathedral was bombed. Completely absorbed in French culture, particularly that of Breton village life, Tuck had reluctantly returned home at the outbreak of World War I. In 1919-39 she taught life drawing and painting at the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts, introducing the practice of using nude models. Her students included Dora Chapman, Shirley Keene, Jacqueline Hick, Ruth Tuck, David Dallwitz, Ivor Francis, Ivor Hele and Rex Wood.

In 1924 Tuck held her only solo exhibition in Adelaide, showing 83 paintings of both French and local subjects. Very few sold. The Adelaide public’s response was one of complete indifference. She was bitterly disappointed and from then on rarely showed her work. She missed the artistic stimulus of Europe and her Australian works lack the excitement and compositional boldness of her French paintings. Bunny’s influence remains evident in the later work, both in style and in the use of a soft palette. Her paintings continued to show impressionist influences and she followed Bunny’s anti-modern attitudes in her teaching.

When news was received that France had fallen to the Germans in 1940, Tuck suffered a stroke. She died in Ashford Hospital on 3 September 1947. Her life demonstrates a great sense of vocation and a prodigious talent, and her work deserves greater attention, particularly the French oeuvre . Unfortunately, original documentation is sparse. Her French correspondence was lost when the family home at Mount Torrens was burnt in the 1939 Adelaide bushfires. All other correspondence and personal files were collected from her home at Frewville after her death and are thought to have been destroyed.

Extract from Australian Dictionary of Biography written by Betty Snowden