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Barker, Caroline (1894–1988)

by Glenn R. Cooke

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Caroline Barker (1894-1988), artist, was born on 8 September 1894 at Ascot Vale, Melbourne, second of ten children of Victorian-born parents Arthur Barker, journalist, and his wife Eliza, née Stribley. Caroline’s great-grandfather was Henry Bone, a portraitist who exhibited at the Royal Academy, London; her mother, who painted privately, encouraged her to pursue a career as an artist. Educated at Ascot Vale State School, Caroline enrolled in 1912 at the National Gallery schools, where she studied painting with Bernard Hall and drawing with Frederick McCubbin. Among her contemporaries were Napier Waller, Adelaide Perry, Sheila McCubbin, Marion Jones and Enid Dickson. Awarded second prize for monochrome painting in 1917 and given a year’s free tuition, she completed her studies in 1919. Because of his health Arthur Barker moved the family in 1920 to Brisbane, where he worked as a SP bookmaker. Caroline taught art (1921-22) at Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School and saved enough money for a trip to England. Accompanied by her mother, she set off in March 1923.

In London Barker met up with Perry and Jones, and Daphne Mayo from Queensland. Accepted into the Royal Academy schools, she studied under Cayley Robinson and Charles Sims. Next year at the Byam Shaw School of Art she learned painting from Rex Vicat Cole and drawing from F. E. Jackson and won a prize for portraiture. She visited the Continent and then spent a month in Cornwall sketching with Perry and Frances Hodgkins. Her painting `Delphiniums’ was included in the 1926 exhibition of the Paris Salon of the Société des Artistes Français. Returning to Brisbane that year, she initially painted in Vida Lahey’s and Mayo’s studios, but soon established her own in George Street, where she was to remain until 1954. According to her sister Agnes Richardson, she would depart for her studio after breakfast and not return until the last tram at 11 p.m., except on Sundays, when she would appear for the evening meal. For some time the two sisters ran a gift shop in conjunction with the studio.

In 1928 Barker exhibited a portrait of William Jolly, first lord mayor of Brisbane, at the Royal Queensland Art Society. That year she was elected to the council of the society. In the 1930s her studio became a significant meeting place for artists and was affectionately known as Grand Central Station. She held weekly life classes, and allowed the premises to be used for play rehearsals. During World War II Australian and other Allied servicemen and women, including Donald Friend and (Sir) William Dargie, frequented the studio and attended sketching classes. Dargie recalled in 1995 Barker’s `friendly bustling Queensland manner and her open-minded acceptance of all styles of artistic expression’. Barker taught art to schoolgirls at Somerville House (1935-46), where her students included Margaret Olley, Betty Cameron (later Churcher) and Margaret Cilento, and, at various times, at Loreto Convent, Clayfield College and St Margaret’s Church of England Girls’ School. She also taught privately at her Coorparoo home. Among those who benefited from her tuition were Dorothy Coleman, Lola McCausland, John Rigby, Gordon Shepherdson and Hugh Sawrey.

Barker exhibited portraits and still lifes with the RQAS in 1927-87. She served on the committee almost continuously in 1928-73 (life member 1964) and was a vice-president in 1945, 1953 and 1956-73. She rarely exhibited with other Brisbane groups and held her only solo exhibition in 1980. She took over the portraiture classes at the society in 1963 and three years later expanded her activities to include still-life painting. In 1974 three hundred people expressed their regard by attending her eightieth birthday party at the society’s premises. She was appointed MBE in 1979. Still teaching two classes a week in 1986, she was quoted in the Brisbane Daily Sun: `I love Queensland for the colours. The skies are such a vivid blue and the colours of the flowers are so sharp, so positive. I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else’.

In 1986 Barker painted a portrait of Sallyanne Atkinson, lord mayor of Brisbane, who then became aware of her contribution to the local art community and arranged for the Civic Art Gallery, housed in City Hall, to acquire a substantial collection of her work. That year Barker was named Zonta Club of Brisbane’s woman of achievement. Through the joint effort of the Civic Art Gallery’s ad­visory committee and the RQAS, the Caroline Barker prize for tertiary art students was first awarded in 1987. Barker died on 23 July 1988 in South Brisbane and was cremated with Anglican rites. A retrospective exhibition was held at Savode, Brisbane, the following year and in 1999 `A Tribute to Caroline Barker’ was staged at the RQAS gallery.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Bradbury and G. R. Cooke, Thorns & Petals (1988)
  • B. Larner and F. Considine, A Complementary Caste (1988)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 11 Apr 1977, p 16, 10 Sept 1981, p 2, 21 Apr 1989, p 19, 28 July 1984, `Great Weekend’, p 4
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 9 July 1980, p 60
  • Daily Sun (Brisbane), 11 Feb 1986, p 19
  • B. Blackman, taped interview with C. Barker (1986, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Glenn R. Cooke, 'Barker, Caroline (1894–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barker-caroline-12174/text21817, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 January 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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