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Plante, Ada May (1875–1950)

by Jennifer Phipps

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

Ada May Plante (1875-1950), artist, was born on 4 October 1875, at Temuka, New Zealand, daughter of English parents Thomas Crowther Plante, merchant, and his wife Isabella, née Guthrie. They moved to Australia in 1888 and by 1890 were living in East Melbourne. Ada matriculated from Presbyterian Ladies' College in 1891, next year taking the exhibition in history and English. She studied at the Victorian National Gallery schools in 1894-99, under Bernard Hall and Frederick McCubbin, winning prizes for drawing in 1894, 1895 and 1896, and first place for still-life painting in 1898. A red-haired beauty, she was known at the schools as 'Venus'; contemporaries were George Bell, Margaret Preston, Hugh Ramsay and Max Meldrum, and her particular friends Isabel Hunter, Mary Nanson and Christina Asquith Baker.

She exhibited with the Victorian Artists' Society in 1901 before going to London and Paris, where she shared a studio with Baker while studying at the Académie Julian from October 1902 to February 1904. After returning home she showed her French paintings in the V.A.S. 1905 winter exhibition and continued to exhibit with them until 1916. In the First Australian Exhibition of Women's Work, Melbourne, 1907, Ada Plante won prizes for portrait and figure painting. She was a member of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors. In the 1920s she lived in a house at East Melbourne which she and her sister Mary Agnes rented to tenants including Adrian Lawlor, a champion of modernism and a lifelong friend and admirer of her art. In the mid-1920s she met William Frater, who introduced her to the paintings of Cézanne, Van Gogh and Post-Impressionism and painted with her in the city studio she shared with Isabel Tweddle and Mary Meyer. In the 1920s it seems she painted little, but in 1932 she was one of the founding exhibitors of the pioneering Post-Impressionist Melbourne Contemporary Group, whose members included Bell, Arnold Shore, Frater, Tweddle and Lawlor.

In 1935 Plante moved to Darebin Bridge House, Ivanhoe, where other artists, Ambrose Hallen and Lina Bryans, later came to live and where Frater often painted. She exhibited with the Contemporary Art Society in 1941 and 1943, and had her only solo exhibition at George's Gallery in 1945. In 1947 she moved to Research to live with Christina Baker. She died on 3 July 1950 at Armadale and was cremated.

A perfectionist, shy and intensely private, Ada Plante painted slowly and lived very quietly on a small inherited income; although she had attracted recognition as a student and young artist, her work remained relatively unknown. She first painted in a Whistlerian style of Impressionism, but in the last twenty years of her life she mastered Post-Impressionism, earning the admiration of fellow artists like Frater, Shore, Bryans and the critic Basil Burdett. Among a select group, she was called one of the best artists of the period. Shore praised her telling portraits 'charged with a sensitive perception of character'. Her work was carefully constructed to give lightness and harmony to complex analyses of form and colour, offset with seemingly casual strokes of pure colour. A memorial exhibition was held at the Stanley Coe Gallery, Melbourne, in 1951. She is represented in the major Australian galleries.

Select Bibliography

  • Official Souvenir Catalogue: First Australian Exhibition of Women's Work, 1907 (Melb, 1907)
  • K. Fitzpatrick, PLC Melbourne (Melb, 1975)
  • J. Burke, Australian Women Artists, 1840-1940 (Melb, 1980)
  • Stanley Coe Gallery, Memorial Exhibition Catalogue, 10 July 1951 (Melb, 1951)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 July 1950
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 July 1950, 1 June 1957
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 July 1950
  • roll book and newsclippings, Victorian National Gallery, and files (State Library of Victoria)
  • newsclippings (National Gallery of Victoria Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jennifer Phipps, 'Plante, Ada May (1875–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/plante-ada-may-8062/text14067, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 January 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 11

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