Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Waller, Christian Marjory (1894–1954)

by David Thomas

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Christian Marjory Emily Carlyle Waller (1894-1954), artist, was born on 2 August 1894 at Castlemaine, Victoria, fifth daughter and youngest of seven children of William Edward Yandell (d.1899), a Victorian-born plasterer, and his wife Emily, née James, who came from England. Christian began her art studies in 1905 under Carl Steiner at the Castlemaine School of Mines and was later taught by Hugh Fegan at the Bendigo School of Mines. She exhibited her work at the Bendigo Art Gallery and the local Masonic Hall in 1909, and in Melbourne next year.

The family moved in 1910 to Melbourne where Christian attended the National Gallery schools. She studied under Frederick McCubbin and Bernard Hall, won several student prizes, exhibited (1913-22) with the Victorian Artists Society and illustrated publications, such as Melba's Gift Book of Australian Art and Literature (1915), edited by Franklin Peterson, and Edwin Brady's Australia Unlimited (1918). On 21 October 1915 at the manse of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Carlton, she married her former fellow-student Mervyn Napier Waller; they were childless. Napier lost his right arm while serving on the Western Front in 1916. After he returned to Australia in 1917, she supported him briefly by working as a commercial artist.

During the 1920s Christian Waller became a leading book illustrator, winning acclaim as the first Australian artist to illustrate Alice in Wonderland (1924). Her work reflected Classical, Medieval, Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau influences. She also produced woodcuts and linocuts, including fine bookplates. From about 1928 she designed stained-glass windows. The Wallers travelled to London in 1929 to investigate the manufacture of stained glass at Whall & Whall Ltd's premises. They also visited Ireland to meet the mystic writers Lord Edward Dunsany and 'A.E.' (G. W. Russell). Returning to Australia via Italy, they studied the mosaics at Ravenna and Venice. Christian signed and exhibited her work under her maiden name until 1930, but thereafter used her married name.

In the 1930s Waller produced her finest prints, book designs and stained glass, her work being more Art Deco in style and showing her interest in theosophy. Her art and writing featured in Manuscripts, edited and published by H. T. Miller. Using the 1849 press she owned with her husband, in 1932 she designed, cut, and hand printed The Great Breath: A Book of Seven Designs, her best printed work. A copy, purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria in the year it was published, was her first work to enter a public collection. Her illustrated fairy tale, The Gates of Dawn, also appeared in 1932. She created stained-glass windows for a number of churches—especially for those designed by Louis Williams—in Melbourne, Geelong, and rural centres in New South Wales. Sometimes she collaborated with her husband, both being recognized as among Australia's leading stained-glass artists.

Estranged from Napier, Christian went to New York in 1939. She joined one of the communes established by the religious leader Father Devine, and completed several murals. In 1940 she returned to the home she shared with her husband at Ivanhoe, Melbourne. She immersed herself in her work and became increasingly reclusive. In 1942 she painted a large mural for Christ Church, Geelong; by 1948 she had completed more than fifty stained-glass windows.

Christian's early interest in subjects from classical antiquity had broadened to include Celtic romance and Arthurian legend. Her literary leanings dwindled as her mystical beliefs deepened; her later prints, murals and stained glass reflected the change. Stylistically, her art changed from Art Nouveau with its love of the curvilinear, to Art Deco with its sunrays, zig-zags and angular forms. Survived by her husband, she died of hypertensive heart failure on 25 May 1954 at Ivanhoe and was cremated. The Bendigo Art Gallery holds her self-portrait (1915); Napier Waller's portrait (1932) of his wife is held by the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Her work is represented in major Australian galleries.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Thomas (ed), The Art of Christian Waller, exhibition catalogue (Bendigo, Vic, 1992), and for bibliography.

Citation details

David Thomas, 'Waller, Christian Marjory (1894–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/waller-christian-marjory-11944/text21407, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 25 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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