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Black, Dorothea Foster (Dorrit) (1891–1951)

by Ian North

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

Dorothea Foster (Dorrit) Black (1891-1951), artist, was born on 23 December 1891 at Burnside, Adelaide, daughter of Alfred Barham Black, engineer and architect, and his wife Jessie Howard, née Clark, amateur artist. She was educated at Mrs Fanny Hübbe's private school at Kensington. About 1909 she went to the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts and painted landscapes in water-colours in the manner of its principal, H. P. Gill. In 1911-12 she visited Britain and Europe with her parents. Dorrit went to Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School in 1915; there she adopted oils as her main medium, and soon showed the influences of Ashton and Elioth Gruner.

In mid-1927 Dorrit Black went to London and spent three months at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, where she was attracted by Claude Flight's promotion of colour linocut printing as an original art form. Next year she studied at André Lhote's academy in Paris and at his summer school, and worked briefly with Albert Gleizes in 1929. Now a disciple of Cubism, she returned to Sydney late that year, held the first of her six one-woman shows in 1930, and exhibited with the Group of Seven, which included Roy de Maistre, Roland Wakelin and her close associate Grace Crowley. In 1931-33 she conducted the Modern Art Centre, Margaret Street; she produced most of her linocuts in the 1930s.

Dorrit Black travelled overseas with her ailing mother in 1934-35 and then settled in Adelaide. In the late 1930s she worked mainly in water-colours until her studio-house at Magill was completed, when she reverted to oils; she mostly panted landscapes of the Adelaide hills and the south coast. She supplemented a small private income by part-time teaching and occasional sales; and from about 1940 taught landscape painting at the School of Arts and Crafts. That year the National Gallery of South Australia bought her picture 'Mirmande' (1928). Becoming deeply involved in the local art world, she was on the committee of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts in 1938; became vice-chairman of the South Australian branch of the breakaway Contemporary Art Society of Australia in 1942; and in 1944 founded Group 9, where co-exhibitors included H. Trenerry.

In 1938, 1945 and 1949 Dorrit Black held one-woman exhibitions at the local Society of Arts and continued to exhibit in Sydney and Melbourne. In the 1940s she wrote private poetry about her unmarried status and religious doubts. She abandoned Christian Science, while a long-standing interest in socialism sharpened; she became an active member of the Australian Labor Party, often writing to the Advertiser on politics and art.

Plump, dignified, black-haired and well-groomed, she was regarded as a mother-figure by younger artists. Dorrit Black died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital on 13 September 1951, after a car accident, and was cremated with Unitarian rites. A memorial exhibition was held at the Society of Arts in 1952, but her outstanding role as a pioneer and proselytizer of modernism in Australia was then largely overlooked. A touring retrospective exhibition was organized by the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1975.

Select Bibliography

  • I. North, Dorrit Black (Adel, 1975)
  • R. Biven, Some Forgotten, Some Remembered (Adel, 1976)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 14 Sept 1951
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ian North, 'Black, Dorothea Foster (Dorrit) (1891–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/black-dorothea-foster-dorrit-5249/text8843, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

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