This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002
Rose Skinner (1900-1979), art-dealer, was born on 30 December 1900 in Perth, sixth child and only daughter of Samuel Dvoretsky, a woodcutter from Russia who became a farmer, and his wife Mary, née Coyle. Rose was raised at Rockingham and educated at Methodist Ladies' College, Perth. At the district registrar's office, Perth, on 17 September 1924 she married Herbert Drysdale Varley, a businessman; they were divorced in 1930. On 5 September 1934 at Kegalla, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), she married John Wastell Harrison. Back in Perth by 1939, she worked as a censor during World War II and divorced her husband in November 1945.
On 11 June 1946, in his home at 40 Mount Street, Perth, Rose married with Methodist forms Josiah James Skinner, a divorcee. They had both belonged to the Workers' Art Guild, an association of left-wing intellectuals. 'Joe' Skinner, a builder and real-estate agent, collected art, antique silver and books. When he decided to develop his Mount Street property, Rose persuaded him to build a gallery. An attractive, exposed brick and glass edifice, it reflected his interest in contemporary architecture and design. The Skinner Galleries, opened on 14 October 1958, held 214 exhibitions over the next eighteen years. Furnished with a grand piano, they were frequently used for concerts and literary events. In the early years they also housed a bookshop. The Skinners lived in one of the flats in the same building.
From the beginning the galleries were financially successful. Rose Skinner insisted on selling on commission. In 1959 the artists Robert Juniper, Brian McKay, Guy Grey-Smith, Tom Gibbons and Maurice Stubbs, all members of the Perth Group, held an exhibition at the galleries. The group broke up within three years, mainly because Grey-Smith objected to Skinner's management. Following a showing in 1962 of (Sir) Sidney Nolan's paintings (which netted £10,000 in sales), Skinner was able to employ an assistant. Nolan and other leading artists—Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker, Fred Williams and Hal Missingham—were frequent exhibitors.
Quick to spot talent and ready to listen to advice, Skinner fostered the careers of Western Australian artists, among them Juniper, McKay, Howard Taylor and George Haynes. She helped Juniper in particular, but restricted the exhibition of his work in other Australian galleries, and emphasized its more superficial and commercially attractive aspects. By supporting the Perth Society of Artists, to which most of Western Australia's professional artists belonged, she did much to encourage the visual arts in Perth. She was energetic, informed and persuasive, and had wide national and international connexions. In 1965-67, in association with the Festival of Perth, she co-ordinated arrangements for the T. E. Wardle Invitation Art Prize at her galleries.
In 1972 Skinner was appointed M.B.E. The Skinner Galleries were closed in 1976, after her health deteriorated. Survived by her husband, she died on 17 September 1979 at Subiaco and was cremated with Anglican rites. She bequeathed her collection of paintings to the University of Western Australia.
Philippa O'Brien, 'Skinner, Rose (1900–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/skinner-rose-11707/text20925, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 October 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002