From the Collection June 2017

One of the many hidden treasures in the Grainger museum is an eclectic collection of paintings, watercolours and photographs both by and about Australian artist Helen Lempriere (1907 – 1991).

I have recently had the privilege of working with this collection as part of the Cultural Collections Projects Program and my studies in the Master of Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, cataloguing the works and documenting their physical condition. The collection has also been photographed in its entirety and is now available for the first time in the Grainger online catalogue.

Helen Lempriere, Self Portrait (38 Yrs), 1945

Helen Lempriere, Self Portrait (38 Yrs), 1945. Oil on canvas, 46 x 38 cm. Donated by Helen Lempriere and Keith Wood Estate, 1996. Grainger Museum Collection. 1996.5000.

Helen Lempriere’s connection to Percy Grainger is via her aunt, Helen Porter Mitchell, later to become the noted Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba. Helen Lempriere’s maternal grandfather, David Mitchell, was Dame Nellie Melba’s father, and a close friend of Percy's father John Harry Grainger. The Mitchell and Grainger families were close and visited each other frequently; many years later John Grainger designed Melba’s house, Coombe Cottage, in Coldstream Victoria.

Lempriere studied art in Melbourne, and was also a member of the ‘Montsalvat’ Jorgensen group of painters and writers in the 1930s and 40s in Eltham, Victoria. She travelled widely with her husband Keith Wood and held over twenty solo exhibitions throughout Europe and the US, returning to Australia in the 1960s. Despite residing overseas for many years, Lempriere remained connected to the cultural heritage of her native Australia. Some of the most affecting works in the Lempriere collection are those inspired by Aboriginal legends and myths; the works are all the more unique given they were painted mostly in London and Paris in the 1950s.

There is little information available publicly about Lempriere outside of the sculpture prize and travelling scholarship awarded in her name. Canberra academic Leslie Hetherington is currently working on an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography due for release mid-2017.  You can see more details and images of the Lempriere works through the Grainger Museum online catalogue.

- Gloria Gamboz, Cultural Collections Projects Program Volunteer

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