Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wilkie, Leslie Andrew Alexander (1878–1935)

by Joyce McGrath

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

Leslie Andrew Alexander Wilkie (1878-1935), by unknown photographer, 1926

Leslie Andrew Alexander Wilkie (1878-1935), by unknown photographer, 1926

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6405

Leslie Andrew Alexander Wilkie (1878-1935), artist, was born on 27 June 1878 at Royal Park, Melbourne, eldest son of David Wilkie, a gardener from England, and his native-born wife Mary Frances, née Rutherford. Educated at Brunswick College, in 1895 Leslie returned there as a junior teacher. In 1896-1901 he attended the National Gallery schools under Bernard Hall and was a prizewinner in 1900. Having completed his first important commission for a full-length portrait in 1903, Wilkie set off next year on a tour of galleries in Europe and Britain to study the works of the masters and those of his distinguished relations (he was a grand-nephew of Sir David Wilkie, R.A.). Returning to Melbourne in 1905, he worked briefly as art critic for the Age, was elected (1906) a council-member of the Victorian Artists' Society and deputized in 1907-08 for Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery.

At Kew on 6 November 1913 Wilkie married with Presbyterian forms Alma Rubina ('Nani') Tunnock (d.1930). He held a successful exhibition in 1914 at his city studio in the Austral Buildings; there, and at a college in Mornington, he also taught art. His portrait of Senator Sir Albert Gould was accepted by the Historic Memorials Committee of the Federal government. During World War I Wilkie sold pictures and painted banners to assist the Australian Red Cross Society. An exhibitor for over twenty years with the Victorian Artists' Society, between 1916 and 1933 he also exhibited regularly with the Australian Art Association and was its secretary in 1923-25. His entry in the Sydney Society of Artists' exhibition of Australian art, shown locally and in London in 1923, had won praise in both cities. Having joined the art staff of both the Argus and the Australasian, and having sat on judging panels for exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria, in September 1926 he exhibited in Sydney with A. E. Macdonald. Wilkie was a conscientious and careful portraitist who painted in the tradition of the Royal Scottish Academy; his work showed considerable 'vitality, in spite of its restraint'.

Slight in build, with a domed head and sensitive features, he was modest and retiring, and never seemed in robust health. In 1926 he was appointed curator (later director) of the Art Gallery of South Australia where he proved efficient, painstaking and popular. He was a council-member of and taught at the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts, and exhibited with the (Royal) South Australian Society of Artists (1927 and 1928) and with the United Arts Club of Adelaide. Elected (1930) to the Royal Drawing Society, London, he became president (1932) of the R.S.A.S.A. In 1934 he joined a University of Adelaide anthropological expedition to Central Australia and painted portraits of Aborigines near Cooper Creek; these works were later exhibited at the A.G.S.A.

After an operation for appendicitis, Wilkie died in an Adelaide private hospital on 4 September 1935, survived by his only daughter. He was buried in St Saviour's Anglican Church cemetery, Glen Osmond. His work as a teacher and administrator, and perhaps his isolation in Adelaide from the stimulus of old friends, had limited his artistic opportunities during the Depression. Wilkie's paintings are in the National Library of Australia and the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, in State and regional galleries, the State Library of Victoria and the Athenaeum Club, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • Gadfly (Adelaide), June 1908
  • Art in Australia, 7, 1919
  • Herald (Melbourne), 2 Aug 1907
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Sept 1926
  • News (Adelaide), 4 Sept 1935
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 5 Sept 1935
  • J. McGrath, The Australian Art Association, 1912-1933, Against the Social Background of the Period (B.Soc.Sci. special study, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, 1974)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Joyce McGrath, 'Wilkie, Leslie Andrew Alexander (1878–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilkie-leslie-andrew-alexander-9097/text16041, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 October 2014.

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

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