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Bale, Alice Marian Ellen (1875–1955)

by Joyce McGrath

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Alice Marian Ellen Bale (1875-1955), by unknown photographer

Alice Marian Ellen Bale (1875-1955), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22946195

Alice Marian Ellen Bale (1875-1955), artist, was born on 11 November 1875 at Richmond, Victoria, only child of William Mountier Bale (1851-1940), naturalist and inspector of customs, and his wife Marian, née Adams (d.1915). A specialist in hydroids, W. M. Bale was a foundation member of the Field Naturalists' Club (1880), secretary of the Microscopical Society of Victoria (1882) and member of the Royal Society of Victoria. He published several papers on Victorian hydroids and on his death left many of his specimens and books to the National Museum and the National Herbarium, Melbourne.

Alice Bale spent her earliest years at the home of her paternal grandparents in Richmond, and attended the Erin Street State School. By 1886 her parents had made their home at 83 Walpole Street, Kew, where Alice lived for the rest of her life. In 1885-92 she attended the Methodist Ladies' College and distinguished herself in music and literature. She had early decided to be an artist and took private lessons from May Vale and a few from Hugh Ramsay. She was elected to membership of the Victorian Artists' Society in 1894; her first picture hung was at its exhibition in October 1896.

Alice Bale was enrolled at the Gallery School in 1895, where in the course of her studies she won nine major prizes and in 1902 was a strong contender for the travelling scholarship; she attended for two more years but did not compete for prizes. She became noted for her paintings of flowers; Bernard Hall held her work in high regard and a print of her 'Scabiosa' (purchased 1922) was for years one of the few available coloured reproductions of pictures in the National Gallery of Victoria. Her landscapes and interiors were mostly painted at Castlemaine, where she had a house and studio, and at Kew; she never left Victoria. Miss Bale became a consistent and respected exhibitor with the Women's Art Club (later the Melbourne Society of Women Painters), and she edited the journal of the Victorian Artists' Society from 5 March 1918 until its last issue in February 1919. She rarely missed a council meeting of 'the Vics' during her two terms in office in 1914 and in the stormy years between October 1916 and November 1918 when Max Meldrum was president. It was then that a group of supporters present in Meldrum's studio decided to form the Twenty Melbourne Painters; Alice Bale was the first and lifelong secretary. Explaining the origin and aims of the society, she wrote in 1920: 'we desire nothing but sincerity and a humble study of nature, from which alone all art, whether decorative or realistic, draws any enduring life'.

From 1923 her membership of the Australian Art Association (disbanded in 1933) enabled her to exhibit annually with major artists from all States. Two of her paintings were in the 1923 exhibition of Australian art in London. In 1933 her group portrait, 'Mr. and Mrs. Carl Hampel', was hung at the Royal Academy and her 'Portrait of a lady' was exhibited at the Salon of 1939 in Paris. She also exhibited with The Half Dozen Group of Artists in Brisbane in 1943-48 and in 1946 painted a commissioned portrait of Major General Vasey for the Australian War Memorial.

Articulate and formidable in controversy, Miss Bale wrote many letters to newspapers on issues ranging from the appointment of a new director of the National Gallery of Victoria to the preservation of trees and modernism in art. Adrian Lawlor, although opposed to her traditionalism, admired her 'sense, character and intelligence'; she reminded him of Dame Ethel Smyth.

On 14 February 1955 Alice Bale died in the Royal Melbourne Hospital after an operation for cancer; she was buried in the Church of England section of Boroondara cemetery. From her estate, valued for probate at £46,353, a perpetual scholarship bearing her name was established. Her portrait by William Rowell is in the Castlemaine Art Gallery where there are seven of her paintings; others are at Walpole Street and in public collections in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Ballarat and Mildura.

Select Bibliography

  • L. B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria, 1861 to 1968 (Melb, 1970)
  • V.A.S., 23 Apr 1920
  • Art in Australia, Mar 1924
  • Dec 1926
  • Age (Melbourne), 3 Aug 1929
  • J. McGrath, The Australian Art Association, 1912-1933 … (B. Soc. Sci. special study, RMIT, 1974)
  • Victorian Artists' Society, Minute books (State Library of Victoria)
  • Art catalogues and newsclippings (State Library of Victoria)
  • Public Library … of Victoria records (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Joyce McGrath, 'Bale, Alice Marian Ellen (1875–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bale-alice-marian-ellen-5113/text8543, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 17 July 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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