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Edith Lilla Holmes (1893–1973)

by Sue Backhouse

This article was published:

Edith Lilla Holmes (1893-1973), artist, was born on 9 March 1893 at Hamilton, Tasmania, third of five children of William Nassau Holmes, a schoolmaster from Ireland, and his wife Lilla Edith, née Thorne, a Tasmanian-born teacher. The family lived at Devonport and Scottsdale before settling on the outskirts of Hobart at Dilkhoosha, 62 Charles Street, Moonah, which remained Edith's home until her death. Her artistic talents were encouraged by her mother who had 'a good sense of colour' and created memorable interiors in their home. Edith studied art at the Hobart Technical College under Lucien Dechaineux in 1918-19 and 1922-24, and under Mildred Lovett in 1925-26, 1928-31 and 1935. She benefited from Dechaineux's emphasis on 'painting in tone' and acknowledged Lovett's encouragement, though her 'modern outlook at first was not well received in Hobart'. In 1930-31 Holmes attended Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School, under Ashton and Henry Gibbons, where she met George Lambert and Thea Proctor.

During the 1930s Holmes shared a studio in Collins Street, Hobart, with Lovett, Florence Rodway, Dorothy Stoner, Ethel Nicholls and Violet Vimpany. She travelled regularly to Melbourne where she held seven exhibitions (individual and joint) between 1938 and 1951. Her work was favourably received, and thought to be refreshing, particularly by Basil Burdett in 1938 and Rupert Bunny in 1941. In Melbourne she met the artists Danila Vassilieff and Eveline Syme, as well as George Bell and Arnold Shore. Tall and slender, with a striking figure, she had strong features with good bone structure. Her hair was dyed 'a wonderful orange colour and it flowed violently over her forehead almost covering up her bright eyes'. A flamboyant dresser, she sported large, 'old-fashioned hats . . . scarves and wide belts of amazing colour and pattern that allowed her to stand out from the crowd'. She was active in the Victoria League, the English Speaking Union and the Women's Non-Party League of Tasmania, and was a life member of the local division of the United Nations Association.

Holmes exhibited annually in 1927-72 with the Art Society of Tasmania and was a member (1930-52) of its council. A founding member (1940) of the Tasmanian Group of Painters, she also exhibited regularly with them until 1969. She travelled to England and France in 1958, 1960 and 1971, holding an exhibition at Tasmania House, London, in 1958. In an art competition in 1954 to mark Hobart's sesquicentenary she had won a special prize, and in 1972 she secured another, awarded by the Tasmanian branch of the Contemporary Art Society. She loved her natural surroundings, particularly Mount Direction which was visible from her home. Having been inspired in the 1920s by the outdoor work of Lovett and Vida Lahey, she painted in all weather and seasons, especially on a property at Carlton where she had a shack. She also enjoyed painting portraits, particularly of her relations, was 'interested in people and how they dressed', and felt it important to convey their character in her art. An instinctive, joyous painter, she was a vibrant colourist. Two self-portraits from the 1930s—'Summer', an intriguing oil showing three faces, and 'Self Portrait in a Sun Hat'—are in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Miss Holmes died on 26 August 1973 in Hobart and was buried with Anglican rites in Forcett cemetery. Her work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Devonport Gallery and Art Centre, and in numerous private collections. Dorothy Stoner's portrait of Holmes is held by the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Burke, Australian Women Artists 1840-1940 (Melb, 1980)
  • V. Veale, Women to Remember (St Helens, Tas, 1981)
  • H. Kolenberg, Edith Holmes and Dorothy Stoner, exhibition catalogue (Hob, 1983)
  • S. Backhouse, Tasmanian Artists of the Twentieth Century (Hob, 1988)
  • M. Angus, Edith Holmes Exhibition, exhibition catalogue (Hob, 1986)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 Dec 1938
  • H. de Berg, interview with Edith Holmes (transcript, 8 Oct 1965, National Library of Australia)
  • J. Hickey, Notes on Edith Holmes (manuscript, 1975, copy held by Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sue Backhouse, 'Holmes, Edith Lilla (1893–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 May 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]


9 March, 1893
Hamilton, Tasmania, Australia


26 August, 1973 (aged 80)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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