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Blake, Florence Turner (1873–1959)

by Jill Waterhouse

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Florence Turner Blake (1873-1959), artist and benefactor, was born on 26 October 1873 at Armidale, New South Wales, sixth surviving child of William Albert Braylesford Greaves, a surveyor from England, and his native-born wife Anne, née Mackenzie. William later owned Newbold station on the Clarence River and a family home, Braylesford, at Bondi, Sydney. Florence sold puppies from her pet pug to pay for her first art lessons. One of Julian Ashton's earliest students, she exhibited her oil painting, 'Panel, Roses', in September 1896 with the Society of Artists, Sydney. Tom Roberts and Henry Fullwood had visited the Greaves family at Newbold in 1894; Roberts's 'Portrait of Florence' (painted about 1898) depicted the profile of a winsome, stylish, young woman with a mass of fine, curly, dark hair. He also painted a portrait of her mother.

On 30 April 1902 at St Luke's Anglican Church, Concord, Sydney, Florence married William Edward Kugelmann Mofflin of William Mofflin & Co., wool and skin merchants; they were to remain childless. Although some of her works bear her married name, she divorced her husband in 1915. She later used her Christian name 'Blake' (after an ancestor) as her surname.

Florence is best known for her water-colour paintings on silk fans, especially 'Frivolers' (1916) and 'Garden of Dreams' (1920), both purchased by the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, and 'The Silver Moon', bought by the National Gallery of South Australia in 1918: these subjects reflected her love of fantasy and soft colours. Charles Conder's fan paintings influenced her style as they did that of her contemporary Thea Proctor.

From 1925 to 1929 Florence lived in Europe, studying under Professor Henry Tonks at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London. The Impressionist painter Lucien Pissarro, who noticed her copying in the Tate gallery, gave her one of his landscapes, which influenced the subject and style of her painting, 'Le Brusc, South of France'. Back in Sydney, she reputedly treasured her studios more than her homes and lent paintings from her collection to the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. She had many friends connected with that institution, among them Gother Victor Fyers Mann whose portrait she painted, (Sir) James McGregor, and Bertrand Waterhouse who designed her house, Menlo, at Bellevue Hill. Having exhibited a few pictures in the early 1930s, she began to suffer incipient blindness in 1939.

Florence Blake died at Ryde on 8 April 1959 and was cremated. She left almost the whole of her estate, valued for probate at £54,214, to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, by far the largest bequest it had then received. The money was particularly welcome at a time when 'statutory grants were barely sufficient for local purchases'. The income from the Florence Turner Blake bequest has been used to purchase works in a variety of media, including an etching by Picasso, a tapestry by John Olsen and Donald Friend's Sri Lanka notebook.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Topliss, Tom Roberts, 1856-1931, 2 vols (Melb, 1985)
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Acquisitions, 1959, pp 5, 7
  • Trustees of National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Annual Report, 1965 and minutes of monthly meetings, 1958-67 (held at Art Gallery of New South Wales)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 13 Aug 1959
  • Society of Artists (New South Wales), Exhibition catalogues, 1896-1933, and biographical file (Art Gallery of New South Wales)
  • Blake papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Jill Waterhouse, 'Blake, Florence Turner (1873–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blake-florence-turner-9521/text16763, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 July 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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