Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dangar, Anne Garvin (1885–1951)

by Helen Maxwell

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

Anne Garvin Dangar (1885-1951), painter and potter, was born on 1 December 1885 at Kempsey, New South Wales, fifth child of native-born parents Otho Orde Dangar, auctioneer and member (1889-93) of the Legislative Assembly, and his wife Elizabeth, née Garvin. Called Nancy by her family, she attended East Kempsey Public School and in 1906 took art lessons in Sydney under Horace Moore-Jones. She joined Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School before 1916 and taught there from 1920; meantime, she worked at Angus & Robertson Ltd by day. An adventurous reader, she discovered Cézanne and exchanged modernist ideas with her colleagues Dorrit Black, 'Rah' Fizelle and Grace Crowley. Dangar shared a cottage at Vaucluse with Crowley who became her dearest friend—yet they were never to meet after 1930.

In February 1926 they sailed for France where Dangar was overwhelmed by Cézanne's work. Seeking instruction in the principles and techniques of modern painting, they studied at André Lhote's academy in Paris and in 1928 attended his summer school at Mirmande, near Montélimar. Dangar visited Italy with Crowley before returning alone to Australia. While assisting at the Sydney Art School in 1929, she met opposition when she attempted to introduce ideas about cubism and modern art, and was further frustrated by the parochial attitude of her family. Early in 1930 she travelled to the south of France where she joined an artists' commune, Moly-Sabata, which had been set up at Sablons by the cubist Albert Gleizes and his wife Juliette, née Roches.

Apart from the Gleizeses (intermittently resident nearby), Dangar became the central figure at Moly-Sabata. Chronically short of money, she grew fruit, flowers and vegetables, kept bees and cleaned for the commune. She worked with local peasants at their potteries, re-introducing and revitalizing traditional techniques, and basing her decorations on Gleizes's theories about the relationship of art to Catholicism and medieval mysticism. In the 1930s she made three shipments of her pots to Australia, and sent instructions from Gleizes and reports of discussions to the Sydney modernists. She recorded her life in letters to Grace and continued to hope that her darling 'Smudgie' would join her in France. Respected as a teacher of drawing and design, Dangar successfully exhibited her pottery in France; in 1939 she spent six months in Morocco, based at Fez, as 'monitress' to local potters, and was in turn influenced by their traditional Islamic designs.

Back in France in January 1940, Dangar was confined to Sablons during World War II. She taught English to survive. Apart from enduring loneliness, cold and hunger, she found the absence of soap and matches hardest to bear. In March 1943 she was sent to a concentration camp at Grenoble, but released five days later. Despite the difficulties in filling commissions because of the scarcity of essential materials, she decided to remain in France and in 1947 her own kiln was built. In March 1951 Dangar was converted to Catholicism. Monks from a nearby monastery tended her in her last months. She died of cancer on 4 September 1951 at Moly-Sabata and was buried in the Roches family vault at Serrières, Ardèche.

One of the few Australian artists whose work has been acclaimed more in the country of her adoption than at home, Anne Dangar is best known in Australia for her pottery although she thought of herself as a painter throughout her life. Examples of her work are in several collections in France, including the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, as well as in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and in the art galleries of New South Wales and South Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Bénézit, Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs (Paris, 1976)
  • I. North, The Art of Dorrit Black (Melb, 1979)
  • J. Burke (ed), 'Grace Crowley's Student Years', Australian Women Artists (Melb, 1980)
  • M. Eagle, Australian Modern Painting (Syd, 1990)
  • H. Maxwell, 'Profile of Anne Dangar', Art and Australia, 26, no 3, Autumn 1989
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Dec 1933
  • Sunday Sun (Sydney), 18 Mar 1945
  • Grace Crowley papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Helen Maxwell, 'Dangar, Anne Garvin (1885–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dangar-anne-garvin-9899/text17525, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 September 2014.

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

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