Violet Teague

Violet Helen Evangeline Teague (1872-1951), artist, was born on 21 February 1872 in Melbourne, daughter of James Pascoe Teague, a medical practitioner from Cornwall, and his Canadian wife Eliza Jane, née Miller. Violet was educated by a French governess and at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Melbourne. In the 1890s she roamed the art galleries of Europe, and studied in Brussels at the studio of Ernest Blanc Garin and in England with (Sir) Hubert von Herkomer where she probably learned to make woodcuts. In 1897 she joined the National Gallery schools, Melbourne, studying with L. Bernard Hall; while at the Melbourne School of Art run by E. Phillips Fox andTudor St George Tucker, she joined the Charterisville group.

She had already begun to paint portraits of Melburnians: her picture of Colonel Rede was hung at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français, Paris. In 1902 she was appointed to the council of the Victorian Artists’ Society which that year published her poem ‘A Cloud Fantasy’ in its journal. Two illustrated books, Birds in the Sunny South and Night Fall in the Ti-Tree (which she produced in collaboration with Geraldine Rede) were published in 1905. During 1905-14 she produced many Japanese-style woodcuts and lectured on the technique at the Victorian Arts and Crafts Society.

In 1915 her portrait of Mrs Otway Falkiner won a bronze medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco. In 1911 Violet had painted ‘Boy with a Palette’; submitted to the Old Salon, Paris, the painting won a silver medal when hung in 1920; next year it was allotted pride of place at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. An admirer of Gainsborough and the English school of portraiture, Teague often introduced eighteenth-century mannerisms in her pictures. Her portraits are among the best Australia has produced. She occasionally painted genre scenes: her picture ‘Welcome News From the Front’ commemorates the South African War.

While she exhibited infrequently in the 1920s and 1930s, she turned to making altarpieces. For the Kinglake (War) Memorial Church, Victoria, she made one in which the adoring shepherds were replaced by portraits of Australian light-horsemen; when commissioned in 1938 to execute the altarpiece of the Arctic Cathedral at Alkavic, Canada, she again chose a contemporary and regional setting, dressing the madonna and child in furs. She made other panels and, at the Church of St James the Less, Mt Eliza, collaborated with her friend Jessie Traill.

Less than five feet (152 cm) tall, with grey-blue eyes and masses of light brown hair, Teague was described in 1949 as being: ‘a small frail person … quiet of manner, yet with a surprising vitality and a more surprising sense of whimsy … she comes out direct in a mannered way and her eyes twinkle humorously’. She ‘can talk on any subject from racehorses to the decline of Western Culture exactly and wittily’. Teague died on 30 September 1951 at Mt Eliza, Victoria, and was cremated. A member of several leading Australian art societies, she is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and the National Gallery of Victoria.

(Mary Alice Lee, Australian Dictionary of Biography)