Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Charles Goodchild (1898–1980)

by Joyce Gibberd

This article was published:

John Charles Goodchild (1898-1980), artist, was born on 30 March 1898 at Southwark, London, fourth of nine children of John Goodchild, journeyman lead-glazier, and his wife Jessie Mary, née White. Young John was educated at the Strand School and found it humiliating to be a scholarship-boy. In 1913 the family emigrated to South Australia where he took several jobs, including signwriting. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in 1917, he served on the Western Front with the 9th Field Ambulance. While in hospital near Le Havre, France, in 1918, he sent his sketches to the Digger and was later commissioned to contribute pen-drawings for Where Australians Rest (Melbourne, 1920).

After World War I, Goodchild attended the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts, and produced Adelaide in Pen and Ink Drawings (1920). He studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, in 1921 before returning to Adelaide. To 'keep the pot boiling' he became a commercial artist and taught etching at the School of Arts and Crafts. In 1923 he held a one-man exhibition of his etchings in Adelaide and showed his work in Sydney with the Australian Painter-Etchers' (and Graphic Art) Society, of which he was vice-president. At St Augustine's Anglican Church, Unley, Adelaide, on 22 April 1926 he married Doreen Rowley. They sailed for London where they attended the Central School—Doreen studying clay-modelling, John engraving and lithography. Early in 1929 they established a studio in Adelaide and John began exhibiting his water colours with the (Royal) South Australian Society of Arts; he was to be its president (1937-40).

A small, compact figure, with a brisk and bustling gait, Goodchild had 'an eye like a hawk and a fist as steady as a rock'. He readily made the transition from drawing and etching to water colours. His traditional landscapes, street scenes and architectural views revealed his understanding of tone and form, mastery of line and highly developed sense of colour. Among the best is 'Gateway, Quirinal Palace' (1928), held by the Art Gallery of South Australia. He also produced furniture, panels in bas-relief, the lamps and pylons for the Adelaide City Bridge (opened 1931), and he painted, in oils, a series depicting the Australian offices of Elder, Smith & Co. Ltd. Shrewd and irascible, he believed that accurate draughtsmanship was the basis of all great art. His work shows extraordinary competence. It is held by major Australian galleries, the Library of Congress, Washington, and the British Museum, London.

Goodchild was a board-member (1938-53 and 1960-69) of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery (from 1940 National Gallery of South Australia) and principal (1941-45) of the School of Arts and Crafts. In March 1945 the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, commissioned him as an official war artist. Attached to the Royal Australian Air Force, he painted several water colours which are compositionally dramatic, particularly 'Oxfords at 3000 feet over Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria'. On 2 September he was present at, and took a cinefilm of, the signing of the Japanese surrender aboard the American battleship, Missouri, in Tokyo Bay. In 1946 he was cartoonist for the Adelaide News. He travelled restlessly and frequently. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died on 9 February 1980 at his Highbury home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Carroll, John C. Goodchild 1898-1980, exhibition catalogue (Adel, 1981)
  • J. Brooks and D. Goodchild, John C. Goodchild 1898-1980, His Life and Art (Adel, 1983)
  • Sunday Mail (Adelaide), 17 Feb 1980
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 22 Feb 1980
  • J. C. Goodchild file 206/002/032 (Australian War Memorial)
  • Goodchild family scrapbook (Australian War Memorial)
  • H. de Berg, interview with John Charles Goodchild, (transcript, 1965, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Joyce Gibberd, 'Goodchild, John Charles (1898–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 5 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 March, 1898
London, Middlesex, England


9 February, 1980 (aged 81)
Highbury, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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