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Rees, Lloyd Frederic (1895–1988)

by Renée Free

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Lloyd Rees, by Roland Wakelin, 1965

Lloyd Rees, by Roland Wakelin, 1965

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an12887898

Lloyd Frederic Rees (1895-1988), artist, was born on 17 March 1895 at Yeronga, Brisbane, seventh of eight children of Edward Owen Rees, a Victorian-born insurance agent, and his wife Angèle, née Burguez, who was born in Mauritius.  Educated at Indooroopilly Pocket (Ironside) and Ithaca Creek state schools and Central Technical College High School, where he was captain of the cricket team, Lloyd taught himself to draw by copying images of old French and Italian buildings.  He filled sketchbooks with drawings of Brisbane, imagining the city as a second Paris, with a riverside drive and an opera house.  A severe bout of nephritis in 1912 exacerbated a fear of death that had begun in early childhood; Rees was to suffer from periods of depression throughout his life.

In 1913 Rees joined the State Government Printing Office as an artist and took art classes under L. J. Harvey and Godfrey Rivers at Central Technical College.  He was inspired by reproductions of watercolours by J. M. W. Turner and of pen drawings by Joseph Pennell.  His drawings of Brisbane buildings, including St John’s Cathedral, were printed as four sets of postcards.  In 1916 he was commissioned to do a series of drawings of the new St Brigid’s Catholic Church, Red Hill, designed by Robin Dods.  Next year he moved to Sydney to work as a commercial artist for (S. Ure) Smith & Julius; a fellow employee, Roland Wakelin, became a lifelong friend.  Living at Waverton, Rees began painting the harbour; in 1922 he moved to Parramatta, where he painted tree-lined streets.  He admired the work of Jean Baptiste Corot and John Constable.

Rees became engaged in 1922 to Daphne Mayo, whom he had met when both were art students in Brisbane.  He joined her in England the next year and together they travelled on the Continent, drawing and painting.  In 1924 he returned to Sydney and found employment as an artist at Farmer & Co.’s department store.  Mayo broke off the engagement.  On 7 August 1926 at Mosman Methodist Church he married Winifred Dulcie Metcalfe, a schoolteacher.  She died the following year, after giving birth to a stillborn child.  Rees had a nervous breakdown; Dulcie’s friend, Eva Marjory Pollard, also a schoolteacher, helped him to recover and on 28 February 1931 at Pennant Hills Congregational Church they were married.  They lived at McMahons Point, overlooking the harbour, and at Balls Head until 1934, when they built an 'Italianate villa' at Northwood.

Having fortuitously discovered fine paper, which enabled him to form outlines with fine point, during the 1930s Rees produced pencil drawings of Sydney Harbour.  Clear contours and subtle shading also caught the textures of foreshore sandstone cliffs and Moreton Bay fig trees.  In 1933 (Sir) Arthur Streeton described 'The Two Boats' as 'so well drawn, and the westering light and shade so exquisitely chosen and expressed, that it almost suggests the colour of the scene'.  He won the silver medal for drawing at the Paris International Exposition in 1937.  In 1936 he had started to paint finely edged oils, with close-hued patches of colour.  He then developed a heavier style for the bushy harbour foreshores, using impasto with palette knife, beginning with 'The Silent Bush' in 1938.

From 1939 he and his family holidayed on the south coast at Gerringong, and in 1947 they built a cottage, Caloola, at Werri Beach.  He produced many paintings of the area, including 'The Road to Berry' (1947).  Feeling that the landscape was too green, 'too Constable', he preferred to define the Illawarra in his own 'russets and greys'.  On visits to Marjory’s family at Bathurst and Orange, Rees painted the local countryside.  In Sydney he and some friends, who called themselves the Northwood group, painted at rural Ryde and Balls Head.

In 1946-86 Rees taught drawing and art history in the architecture school at the University of Sydney, influencing generations of students.  By 1950 he felt that, with 'Omega Pastoral', he had reached a mature style, replacing glazes with scumbling.  He won the Wynne prize for 1950 with 'The Harbour from McMahons Point'.  His painting 'Sydney' won the Commonwealth Jubilee art prize in 1951.

A member of the Society of Artists from 1932, Rees was president in 1961-65.  He was conscious that he was a traditionalist, standing between the conservatives in the Royal Art Society and the modernists in the Contemporary Art Society.  Defensive about being thought reactionary or unable to appreciate abstract art, he explained that abstract art had demonstrated to him 'the need to animate in terms of harmonious shape and colour the whole picture surface'.  To protect his health, to lighten his palette and capture light better, and to be more modern, he tried titanium white instead of lead white.  In 1952-53 and 1959 he travelled to Europe, and in the 1960s developed a delicate drawing style with washes.  After further overseas trips in 1966-67 and 1973—Chartres Cathedral, France, became the subject of an exhibition after a five-day visit—he envisaged Australia through European eyes, and Europe through Australian eyes.  In paintings such as 'Australian Façade' and 'The Timeless Land' (1965), Europe and Australia were given equal grandeur in large landscapes in flattened space and encrusted paint layers suggesting the strata of time.

From 1967, when his son, Alan, moved to Hobart, Rees made regular trips, incorporating painting excursions, to Tasmania.  His paintings became larger, with free arm movement.  Visiting Central Australia for the first time in 1976, he painted the Olgas and Uluru and decided that his own Dreaming was embedded in the Lascaux Caves region in France.  In 1982 he painted Harry Seidler’s controversial Blues Point Tower and won the Wynne prize with 'Morning on the Derwent'.  He had successfully taken up lithography and etching late in the 1970s.

Rees was interested in civic architecture and town planning; a member (1962-67) of the Sydney City Council fountains committee, in 1976 he underwrote the waterfall in Martin Place.  A democratic socialist, he was a long-time supporter of the Australian Labor Party.  His skill as a raconteur, especially about cricket, endeared him to Prime Minister Robert Hawke; Neville Wran, Tom Uren and William Deane were among his friends.  In the 1980s he opposed the destruction of Tasmanian wilderness areas.

Awarded an honorary D.Litt by the universities of Sydney (1970) and Tasmania (1984), Rees was appointed CMG in 1977 and AC in 1985.  He wrote two memoirs:  The Small Treasures of a Lifetime (1969) and Peaks and Valleys (1985).  In 1986 he and his wife moved to Hobart where, despite failing eyesight, he continued to paint.  Marjory Rees died in April 1988.  In that year the Australian Bicentennial Authority named him one of 'two hundred people who made Australia great'.  Survived by his son, Rees died on 2 December 1988 in South Hobart and was cremated.  His work is represented in all major Australian public collections.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Free, Lloyd Rees Retrospective, 1969
  • R. Free, Lloyd Rees, 1972
  • R. Free, Lloyd Rees: The Last Twenty Years, 1990
  • H. Kolenberg, Lloyd Rees: Etchings and Lithographs, 1986
  • H. Kolenberg, Lloyd Rees Drawings, 1995
  • J. and A. Rees, Lloyd Rees: A Source Book, 1995
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 March 1933, p 5
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 'Good Weekend', 15 October 1988, p 39
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 'Good Weekend', 4 March 1995, p 30
  • Sydney Alumni Magazine, Autumn, 2008, p 30
  • private information

Citation details

Renée Free, 'Rees, Lloyd Frederic (1895–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rees-lloyd-frederic-14413/text25492, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 19 January 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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