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Moore, William George (1868–1937)

by Robert Holden

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

William George Moore (1868-1937), by George J. Coates, 1910s

William George Moore (1868-1937), by George J. Coates, 1910s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2291533

William George Moore (1868-1937), journalist and art critic, was born on 11 June 1868 at Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria, son of Thompson Moore (1832-1912), businessman and politician, and his wife Emily, née Capper. After education at Scotch College, Sandhurst, he was employed in a merchant's office. Thereafter, for more than a decade, he pursued an itinerant life-style, locally and overseas, as a member of various theatrical companies.

Returning to Melbourne in 1904 he became art and drama critic for the Herald. His anecdotal writings on art were collected in City Sketches (1905) and Studio Sketches (1906), and his dramatic interests culminated in what was perhaps the first sustained promotion of locally written plays, a series of annual Australian drama nights in 1909-12. Plays written by Moore, including The Tea-Room Girl (1910) and The Mysterious Moonlight (1912), were among those produced.

After the last drama night Moore left for London where he continued promoting Australian art and drama, and his own playwriting and acting, as a member of Granville Barker's theatrical company. During World War I he served in the British Army Service Corps in France. While in London he met the New Zealand poet Dora Wilcox and after the death of her husband married her on 1 October 1923 in Sydney.

In 1919 Moore had settled in Sydney which, owing to the work of S. Ure Smith and the launching of Art in Australia, he judged to be the centre of art publishing in Australia. He wrote for many periodicals and newspapers including the Daily Telegraph, the Brisbane Courier, and the Home and in 1926 contributed the concise and balanced article on art to the Australian Encyclopaedia. On the eve of publication of his life's work, The Story of Australian Art (1934), he was awarded the Society of Artists', Sydney, medal for distinguished services to his country's art.

Moore's two-volume magnum opus was the first monographic survey of Australian art. Much of its information was obtained directly from the artists themselves or from close contemporaries, and thus it remains a basic reference work which was reprinted in 1980. However, its lack of critical judgement and sustaining methodology, attributable to Moore's journalistic background, greatly limits its value. Although the work was very favourably received, one lone hostile review condemned it as an 'encyclopaedic stream of facts', many of them trivial or irrelevant. Moore's sometimes trite evaluations damn with faint praise and his constant efforts to find something encouraging to say belie any real critical strength or stand. It was to be another decade before a more 'academic' approach to Australian art historiography appeared in Bernard Smith's Place, Taste and Tradition (1945), which acknowledged a debt to Moore's pioneering work. William Moore thus holds an important place among Australia's leading art critics and publicists and, with Blamire Young, stands in a direct line of descent from James Smith, James Green (J. G. De Libra) and Sidney Dickinson.

In 1937 Moore edited with T. Inglis Moore Best Australian One-Act Plays, and contributed an introductory essay on the development of Australian drama. He died in Sydney on 6 November 1937 and was cremated. Contemporaries remembered him as a man with 'a genius for friendship'. A portrait by G. J. Coates is in the National Library of Australia.

His wife Mary Theodora Joyce Wilcox (1873-1953), poet and playwright, was born on 24 November 1873 at Christchurch, New Zealand, daughter of William Henry Wilcox, saddler, and his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Washbourne. Educated privately and at Canterbury College, she contributed to the Bulletin and taught for several years at Armidale, New South Wales, before travelling to England where she published Verses from Maoriland (1905) and Rata and Mistletoe (1911). Dora Wilcox married Jean Paul Hamelius, professor of English at Liège University, Belgium, in London on 14 October 1909 and served with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in London in 1915-18. After her marriage to Moore she devoted much time to helping him to research The Story of Australian Art. She published Seven Poems (1924) and in 1927 won the Sydney Morning Herald's prize for an ode commemorating the opening of the Commonwealth parliament. In 1931 she won a prize for a one-act play, The Raid, while another, The Fourposter, was included in Best Australian One-Act Plays. A contributor to Australian, English and European periodicals, Dora Wilcox also published Samuel Butler in Canterbury, New Zealand (1934), a lecture given to the Sydney branch of the English Association of which she was a patron. She died, childless, in Sydney on 14 December 1953.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Rees, The Making of Australian Drama (Syd, 1973)
  • Spinner, 2, no 25, May 1926, p 79
  • Pandemonium, 1, no 11, Dec 1934, p 11
  • B.P. Magazine, 10, no 2, Mar 1938, p 70, 73
  • Southerly, 15, no 1, 1954, p 63
  • Art and Australia, 19, no 2, Winter 1982, p 451
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Nov 1937
  • R. H. Croll papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • P. Serle papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • J. K. Moir collection (State Library of Victoria)
  • William Moore scrapbook (National Library of Australia)
  • William Moore papers (James Hardie Library of Australian Fine Arts, Sydney).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robert Holden, 'Moore, William George (1868–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/moore-william-george-7644/text13365, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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