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Medworth, Frank Charles (1892–1947)

by Cameron Sparks

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Frank Charles Medworth (1892-1947), artist, was born on 22 August 1892 at Southwark, London, son of Charles Joseph Medworth, journeyman carpenter, and his wife Lilian Rachel, née Rickward. Frank attended school at Brighton and was apprenticed to an advertiser. From 1912 he studied at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts where his closest associates were David Jones and H. F. W. Hawkins. On 2 September 1914 he enlisted in the East Surrey Regiment. He served on the Western Front (where he received a severe head wound) and with the King's African Rifles in East Africa. Demobilized on 1 July 1919, he continued his studies, at the Westminster Technical Institute and School of Art. He taught at that school (1923-34) and at the City of Hull College of Arts and Crafts (1934-38). Alert to the needs of students, he published three books, Animal Drawing (London, 1934), Perspective (London, 1936) and Figure Drawing (London, 1940).

Medworth exhibited principally with the South London Group, the Royal Society of British Artists, the English Wood Engraving Society and the Royal Academy of Arts. Combining high technical skills with a wide-ranging means of expression—at times humorous and at others mildly Modernist—he was a satirist, illustrator, craftsman, muralist and portraitist. He also undertook many painting tours in Spain and France. At the register office, Hammersmith, London, on 5 July 1929 he married Muriel Doris Anderson. With other artists he held studio and home showings, including two with his wife. His first one-man exhibition, in March 1930 at the Goupil Gallery, comprised fifty-six drawings on the theme of 'Mother and Child', mostly of Muriel with their daughter Diana.

On 23 December 1938 Medworth left England with his family to take up the post of lecturer-in-charge of the art department at East Sydney Technical College. He expanded the staff, and brought a dynamism similar to that of its first principal, Lucien Henry. It was part of Medworth's policy to act as 'a sort of mild irritant amongst his staff and even amongst his students'. In addition, he gave radio broadcasts for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, wrote articles, and lectured on design in modern living. In 1944-45 Medworth was also acting-director of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. A small, animated man, of 'restless enterprise and fecundity of expression', he was an inspiring teacher who thought the best thing that could be taught was a sense of self-criticism.

His exhibition of 120 works in June 1939 had taken Sydney's art critics by surprise because of its unexpected versatility. Medworth belonged to and exhibited with the Society of Artists, the Contemporary Group, the Royal Art Society of New South Wales, the Australian Academy of Art, the Contemporary Art Society of Australia, and the Australian Water-Colour Institute. He also shared two exhibitions with Muriel (1941 and 1947). His position as vice-president of the People's Council for Culture led in October 1947 to allegations in the Commonwealth and State parliaments that he was a communist when he was named as an Australian delegate to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization conference in Mexico City.

Medworth committed suicide by slashing his wrists on 11 November 1947 in the Reforma Hotel, Mexico City. His wife and two daughters survived him. In London his works are represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum; in Australia they are held by most of the major public galleries. The A.G.N.S.W. has drawings of Medworth by Hawkins (1922) and Douglas Dundas (1940).

Select Bibliography

  • B. Dolman (ed), A Dictionary of Contemporary British Artists (Lond, 1929)
  • H. Badham, A Study of Australian Art (Syd, 1949)
  • B. Stratton (ed), Douglas Dundas Remembers (Syd, 1974)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 23 and 24 Oct 1947, pp 1232, 1346, 3 Dec 1948, p 3970
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 19 Nov 1947, p 1287
  • Technical Gazette of New South Wales, 27, pt 1, 1939
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Apr 1939, 14, 25 Oct, 7, 13 Nov 1947
  • Medworth file, History Unit (Department of Technical and Further Education, Sydney)
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales Archives
  • Medworth file, A3300/7, item 625 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Cameron Sparks, 'Medworth, Frank Charles (1892–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/medworth-frank-charles-11102/text19765, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 April 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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