Constance Stokes

Constance Stokes
Constance Stokes in 1972.jpg
BornConstance Parkin
22 February 1906[1]
Miram, near Nhill, Victoria
Died14 July 1991(1991-07-14) (aged 85)
Known forPainting, drawing
Notable work
  • The Village (1935)
  • Woman Drying Her Hair (c. 1946)
  • Girl in Red Tights (c. 1948)
  • Reverie (1950)

Constance Stokes (née Parkin, 22 February 1906 – 14 July 1991) was a modernist Australian painter who worked in Victoria. She trained at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School until 1929, winning a scholarship to continue her study at London's Royal Academy of Arts. Although Stokes painted few works in the 1930s, her paintings and drawings were exhibited from the 1940s onwards. She was one of only two women, and two Victorians, included in a major exhibition of twelve Australian artists that travelled to Canada, the United Kingdom and Italy in the early 1950s.

Influenced by George Bell, Stokes was part of the Melbourne Contemporary Artists, a group Bell established in 1940. Her works continued to be well-regarded for many years after the group's formation, in contrast to those by many of her Victorian modernist colleagues, with favourable reviews from critics such as Sir Philip Hendy in the United Kingdom and Bernard William Smith in Australia.

Her husband's early death in 1962 forced Stokes to return to painting as a career, resulting in a successful one-woman show in 1964, her first in thirty years. She continued to paint and exhibit through the 1970s and 1980s, and was the subject of a retrospective exhibition that toured Victorian regional galleries including Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery and Geelong Art Gallery in 1985. She died in 1991 and is little-known in comparison to some other women artists including Grace Cossington Smith and Clarice Beckett, but her fortunes were revived somewhat as a central figure in Anne Summers' 2009 book The Lost Mother. Her art is represented in most major Australian galleries, including the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria; the Art Gallery of New South Wales is the only significant Australian collecting institution not to hold one of her works.

Early life and training

The Royal Academy at Burlington House, where Stokes studied in the 1930s, and in the galleries of which her works were exhibited in 1953

Constance Parkin was born in 1906 in the hamlet of Miram, near Nhill in western Victoria.[2] The family moved to Melbourne in 1920, where she completed her schooling at Genazzano convent in the suburb of Kew.[3] Constance was short, just under five feet tall, and had dark hair.[4] She trained between 1925 and 1929 at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School in Melbourne. Over the summer of 1925–1926 the Gallery held a competition for its students, who were asked to paint "holiday subjects"; Constance won the prize for a landscape. The competition was judged by artist George Bell, who would have a continuing influence over her artistic career.[5][6]

In 1930, Stokes was among artists who exhibited at a Melbourne gallery, the Athenaeum. Her painting, Portrait of Mrs. W. Mortill, was one of only two to draw praise from prominent member of the Heidelberg School, Arthur Streeton,[3] who described the work as a "rare attraction" that was "liquid and luminous".[7] At the end of her studies, Stokes won the National Gallery of Victoria Art School's prestigious National Gallery Travelling Scholarship, which allowed her to continue her training at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.[3][8] In addition to her education at the Royal Academy, she studied under the French cubist painter and sculptor André Lhote in Paris in 1932.[2] The following year she returned to Australia, where she married businessman Eric Stokes. The family settled in Collins Street, Melbourne, and Stokes had three children between 1937 and 1942.[9] In later years, Stokes had a studio in the family home in Toorak, a modernist house designed by architect Edward Billson.[10]

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