Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Colquhoun, Alexander (1862–1941)

by Jennifer Phipps

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Alexander Colquhoun (1862-1941), artist and critic, was born, probably on 15 February 1862 in Glasgow, youngest child of Archibald Colquhoun, merchant, and his wife Margaret, née Wright. The family migrated to Australia, arriving in Melbourne in the Loch Vennacher in 1876; the oldest child Archibald was a resident surgeon at the Alfred Hospital.

Alexander attended the National Gallery School, Melbourne, in 1877-79, and in 1882-87; he qualified as a teacher of drawing in the Department of Education in 1881. At the gallery school he was taught by Thomas Clark and G. F. Folingsby and formed his lifelong friendship with John Longstaff. With the leading younger painters, most of whom like Colquhoun belonged in the early 1880s to the Buonarotti Club, he exhibited in the Australian Artists' Association in 1887, and next year he began showing at the Victorian Artists' Society. His paintings of landscape and interior, and portraits were impressionistic, but tempered by Folingsby's Munich style; his later work became more tonal, influenced by his friend Max Meldrum's colour theory. At Prahran registry office on 15 September 1892 he married a former gallery school student, London-born Beatrix Hoile who had studied art in Paris. They lived for a while at Brighton as close neighbours of Longstaff and Frederick McCubbin.

Colquhoun took private students as well as teaching drawing at the Working Men's College about 1910, and art at Toorak College for many years until 1930. He held many one-man exhibitions in galleries and in his studio; and, as at the Victorian Artists' Society, of which he was secretary in 1904-14, he exhibited with the Yarra Sculptors' Society, 1901, and the Australian Art Association in 1916-32. He was a foundation member of the Twenty Melbourne Painters group in 1919 and the Australian Academy of Art in 1937.

Apart from a visit to New Zealand as a young man, Colquhoun's interest in European art and literature was cultivated from Australia. He wrote and illustrated regularly for journals, including the V.A.S. and Art in Australia, and for newspapers. He was art critic for the Melbourne Herald in 1914-22, a correspondent to the Philadelphian Christian Science Monitor in 1916-17, and wrote art critiques and regular feature articles in the Age from 1926 until his death. Many Age articles ran in series such as 'Who's who in fiction', 'Australian artists of the past' and contemporary biographies of Melbourne artists including Mary Cecil Allen, A. E. Newbury and Norman Macgeorge.

Colquhoun remained aloof from the public controversy of Meldrumism versus post-Impressionism and was open-minded towards, if rather remote from, contemporary art movements. He did much to record the early history of Australian art and the Impressionists, writing the first critical monographs on McCubbin (1919) and W. B. McInnes (1920?), and also editing the Year Book of Victorian Art (1922-23), all published by Alexander McCubbin.

In 1936 Colquhoun was appointed a trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria. He died in East Malvern on 14 February 1941, and was cremated, survived by his wife and three of their four children.

Select Bibliography

  • Melba's Gift Book of Australian Art and Literature (Melb, 1915)
  • Madoline Brown (N. Murdoch), Portrait in Youth of Sir John Longstaff (Syd, 1948)
  • V.A.S., 1 Aug 1898
  • Working Man's College, College Quarterly, Mar 1910
  • Tatler (London) 14 May 1898
  • Age (Melbourne) 20 July, 17 Aug 1929, 7 Mar, 6, 18 June 1931, 2 July 1932, 31 Aug 1940
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10 Aug 1929
  • Gallery School records (Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne)
  • Art Room catalogues and indexes (State Library of Victoria)
  • information from the Australian Medical Assn (Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jennifer Phipps, 'Colquhoun, Alexander (1862–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/colquhoun-alexander-5742/text9721, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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