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Wheeler, Charles Arthur (1880–1977)

by M. W. H. Pennings

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

Charles Wheeler, by Jack Cato, c1947

Charles Wheeler, by Jack Cato, c1947

State Library of Victoria, H98.150/66 [detail]

Charles Arthur Wheeler (1880-1977), artist, was born on 4 January 1880 at Dunedin, New Zealand, son of John Edward Wheeler, labourer, and his wife Victoria Julia, née Francis, both English born. After John's death, Julia moved with her family to Williamstown, Melbourne, about 1891. Apprenticed in 1895 to C. Troedel & Co. as a lithographic artist, Charles began part-time study next year at the Working Men's College; in 1898 he took drawing classes at night in the National Gallery schools under Frederick McCubbin and in 1905 joined the painting class under L. Bernard Hall. Some five years later Wheeler held his first one-man show. In 1910 the National Art Gallery of New South Wales purchased his painting, 'The Portfolio', and the National Gallery of Victoria acquired 'The Poem'. Wheeler exhibited with the Victorian Artists' Society in 1908-10 and with the Australian Art Association in the 1920s and 1930s.

In April 1912 he had travelled to London, visiting Paris and the Prado in Madrid to see the work of Velazquez. In the following year he exhibited 'Le Printemps' at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français, Paris, and in 1914 went to the Netherlands. Returning to England before the outbreak of World War I, he enlisted in the 22nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (1916) for his actions at Vimy Ridge, but refused a commission and remained a sergeant. Demobilized in February 1919, Wheeler took a studio at Chelsea and exhibited 'Autumn Afternoon' and 'Golden Hours' at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Back in Melbourne, he held an exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in March 1920. For some years a private teacher of drawing and painting, he became assistant drawing instructor at the National Gallery in 1927 and drawing-master in 1935. During these years Wheeler's work was at the height of its popularity, especially his nudes; he was, as well, a fine portraitist and a competent landscapist who won the New South Wales Art Quest prize (1929), the George Crouch prize (1932 and 1934) and the Archibald prize (1933). In 1939-45 he was painting-master and head of the gallery schools. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1951.

About 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall and handsome, Wheeler was softly spoken, gentle and sincere. Considered a thorough gentleman, he was much respected, particularly at the Savage Club of which he was sometime president. His restraint—and a certain fastidiousness—were reflected in his approach to painting: he assiduously applied traditional academic principles and distrusted modernist innovation. He held his final show at the Athenaeum Gallery in November 1970. Wheeler died in Melbourne on 26 October 1977 and was cremated. He never married. His estate was sworn for probate at $137,276. A self-portrait (1922) is held by the National Gallery of Victoria. He is represented in State galleries, the Australian National War Memorial, Canberra, the University of Melbourne and the Castlemaine Art Gallery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. MacDonald, The Art of Charles Wheeler, O.B.E., D.C.M. (Melb, 1952)
  • J. Hetherington, Australian Painters (Melb, 1963)
  • Art in Australia, no 7, 1919
  • Argus (Melbourne), 20 Jan 1927
  • Manuscripts, 6, 1933.

Citation details

M. W. H. Pennings, 'Wheeler, Charles Arthur (1880–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wheeler-charles-arthur-9061/text15927, 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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