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Southern, Clara (1860–1940)

by Anne Duke

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Clara Southern (1860-1940), artist, was born on 3 October 1860 at Kyneton, Victoria, third surviving child of John Southern, farmer, and his wife Jane, née Elliott, both from England. A boarder at Trentham State School, Clara attended the Minerva Academy for girls, Kyneton, where she showed an aptitude for drawing and music. She enrolled at Madame Mouchette's Melbourne studio and later took lessons from Walter Withers. From 1883 to 1887 she studied at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, under G. F. Folingsby and Frederick McCubbin. A tall, lithe beauty with reddish fair hair, she was nicknamed 'Panther' and became friends with fellow students E. M. 'Jo' Sweatman and Agnes 'Mama' Kirkwood. In January 1886 Southern — who was also a violinist — was admitted to the Buonarotti Society, a sketching club whose members included writers and musicians. From 1888 to 1900 she shared a studio with Jane Sutherland at fashionable Grosvenor Chambers in Collins Street where she gave painting lessons. In 1907 her landscapes were awarded a prize in the fine arts section of the Australian Exhibition of Women's Work.

On 9 November 1905 she had married John Arthur Flinn at St John's Anglican Church, Blackburn. They lived at Blythe Bank, Warrandyte, along the Yarra valley from Heidelberg, where they built a cottage and later a studio. Southern made the area popular with other artists, among them Harold Herbert, Penleigh Boyd, Sweatman, Louis McCubbin, Frank Crozier and Charles Wheeler, and an artists' camp was soon established. Her sisters Sarah (also a painter) and Dora both lived near by. Clara's subjects were mainly still life and landscapes. Aiming 'to interpret the message of the Australian bush', she produced work of lyricism and charm, particularly her paintings of Warrandyte, that reflected her devotion to the area where she remained for the rest of her life.

A councillor (1901-06) of the Victorian Artists' Society, she showed paintings at its exhibitions between 1889 and 1917. She was the first woman to be a member and a committee-member of the Australian Art Association, and exhibited with it in 1914 and 1917-19. Southern also belonged to the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, the Twenty Melbourne Painters and the Lyceum Club. In March 1914 at the Athenaeum Hall, Collins Street, she held an exhibition of 79 paintings which included 'The Bee Farm' (purchased in 1942 by the Felton bequest for the National Gallery of Victoria). She held her last one-woman exhibition at the Austral Buildings, Collins Street, in May 1929.

Southern died on 15 December 1940 at a convalescent home in Surrey Hills, Melbourne, and was cremated. Her work is held by the National Gallery of Victoria and the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Burke (ed), Australian Women Artists (Melb, 1980)
  • C. Ambrus, The Ladies' Picture Show (Syd, 1984)
  • J. Clark and B. Whitelaw, Golden Summers (Syd, 1985)
  • K. Amery, Hidden Women (Melb, 1986)
  • Age (Melbourne), 19 Dec 1940
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 Dec 1940
  • Kyneton Guardian, 21 Dec 1940.

Citation details

Anne Duke, 'Southern, Clara (1860–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/southern-clara-8590/text14999, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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