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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Tweddle, Isabel May (Diana) (1875–1945)

by Juliet Peers

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

Isabel May Tweddle (1875-1945), artist, was born on 26 November 1875 at Deniliquin, New South Wales, third daughter of Henry William Hunter, builder, and his wife Emma Louisa, née Peers, both English born. Isabel studied at the National Gallery schools, Melbourne, in 1894-97; there she acquired the nickname 'Diana' and met Ada May Plante with whom she was to work closely. On leaving the gallery schools, Isabel worked as a photographic tinter, rented a city studio and exhibited occasionally with the Victorian Artists' Society. Having married Joseph Thornton Tweddle on 30 March 1904 at the Methodist Church, St Kilda, she accompanied him to Europe about 1907. She attended Max Meldrum's classes (c.1915-20), and executed decorative and refined pastel portraits which had an affinity with the work of Jessie Traill. Meldrum's influence persisted in Isabel's ability to build her subject through patterns of light and shade, working thinly and directly across the canvas. She was a foundation member (1917) of the Twenty Melbourne Painters. During 1921 the Tweddles lived in England.

Her awareness of Post-Impressionism developed in Melbourne in the wake of Arnold Shore and William Frater. She joined the Women's Art Club in 1926 and quickly became a leading exhibitor. Her studies overseas strengthened her position in modernist circles. In London in 1927 and 1933 she exhibited work painted in Scandinavia, the Mediterranean region, Australia and the Pacific, and in the 1930s she visited the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Japan and Germany.

While she used her husband's prominence to advance Post-Impressionist art and attempted to influence National Gallery purchases through his trusteeship, her own strong personality brought added prominence to modernism in Melbourne. A foundation member (1932) of the Contemporary Art Group and committee-member (1938) of the Contemporary Art Society, she was president (1930-31 and 1941-45) of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, and publicly opposed the Australian Academy of Art. Although some envied her affluence, her art was accepted by critics such as Basil Burdett who described her as a 'forceful, vigorous painter and a fine colourist'. Her gestural expressionism, as well as her prominence, may have encouraged younger artists—such as Sybil Craig, Peggie Crombie and Jessie Mackintosh—to adopt a spontaneous style in the 1930s in preference to the formal design taught by George Bell.

Survived by her son and two daughters, Isabel died of cancer on 9 July 1945 at her Toorak home and was cremated. Direct and intuitive in her work, she left few statements about her art and destroyed a number of her paintings shortly before her death. For Tweddle, the 'moderns' were Matisse, Cézanne and Van Gogh; she believed that 'modern art … brought back to painting the vitality and sincerity which had been suppressed by academic treatment'.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Reddin, Rupert Bunny Himself (Melb, 1987)
  • Art and Australia, Nov 1938
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 Apr 1933
  • Herald (Melbourne), 12 Sept 1930
  • Bulletin, 30 July 1925
  • J. Peers, History of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors (forthcoming)
  • private information.

Citation details

Juliet Peers, 'Tweddle, Isabel May (Diana) (1875–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 12

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