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Patterson, Ambrose McCarthy (1877–1966)

by Richard Haese

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Ambrose McCarthy Patterson (1877-1966), artist, was born on 29 June 1877 at Daylesford, Victoria, son of George Patterson, English-born auctioneer, and his Irish wife Annie Marks, née Maccarthy, and nephew of Sir James Brown Patterson. He studied at the National Gallery of Victoria schools and the Melbourne Art School under Tudor St George Tucker and Emanuel Phillips Fox. In 1898 he left for Paris where he enrolled briefly at the Julian, Delécluse and Colarossi academies. Financial difficulties led him in 1899 to Montreal, Canada, and New York where he drew cartoons and illustrations for newspapers. In 1901 (Dame) Nellie Melba, to whom he was related, offered to support him in Paris for two years. There he shared a studio with James MacDonald and Hugh Ramsay, and studied with Lucien Simon and Jean Paul Laurens. His early admiration for the bravura manner of Sargent, then the more austere style of Velasquez, gave way to Impressionism and Pissarro, whose example he followed in restrained streetscapes.

In 1903 Patterson was awarded the American Art Association prize and until 1908 exhibited regularly at the Salon d'Automne, having been elected a sociétaire in 1904. He also showed at the New Salon, the Salon des Independants, and in 1904 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, where he exhibited at the Baillie Gallery with Frank Brangwyn. He travelled and worked in Ireland, Spain and Italy, and taught in Paris and Brittany. His most successful show was in 1906 at the Cercle Artistique et Litteraire in Brussels. In London on 22 December Patterson married Margaret Jane Davis, an Irish governess.

In 1910 he returned to Melbourne, where he exhibited regularly with the Victorian Artists' Society and at the Athenaeum gallery in 1912. That year he joined the V.A.S. breakaway group which formed the Australian Art Association. In spite of portrait commissions, life in Australia was a struggle and the family left for Hawaii where in 1915-17 he painted and produced wood-block prints. After separating from his wife he moved to San Francisco and then to Seattle, joining the art faculty of the University of Washington in 1919. He became a locally significant painter and print-maker and in 1928 an American citizen. He studied modernism in Europe in 1929-30 and in 1934 fresco-painting in Mexico. In 1939 he was appointed professor and, after his retirement in 1947, professor emeritus.

Patterson travelled extensively later in life and revisited Australia in 1951 only to find he was forgotten. His early Impressionism had given way by the 1930s to an equally moderate modernism based on Cubism; later he developed a more vigorous, semi-abstract style.

Patterson died in Seattle on 26 December 1966 and was cremated. His second wife Viola and a daughter from his first marriage survived him. In 1969 a retrospective exhibition was held in Melbourne. His work is represented in the major Australian and in several American galleries. His portrait by Hugh Ramsay is in the National Gallery of Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • Life (Melbourne), June 1912
  • Seattle Times, 23 Feb 1947.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Richard Haese, 'Patterson, Ambrose McCarthy (1877–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/patterson-ambrose-mccarthy-7981/text13901, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 April 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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