Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Adelaide Elizabeth Perry (1891–1973)

by Charlotte Hayman

This article was published:

Adelaide Elizabeth Perry (1891-1973), painter, printmaker and teacher, was born on 23 June 1891 at Beechworth, Victoria, second daughter of Richard Hull Perry (d.1896), solicitor, and his wife Eliza Adelaide, née Reardon, both Victorian born. After Richard's death, Eliza moved with her family to Melbourne. Adelaide attended a private school at Brighton Beach until her mother remarried and they went to Dunedin, New Zealand. Miss Perry returned to Melbourne in 1914 to study at the National Gallery schools under Bernard Hall and Frederick McCubbin. She exhibited with the Victorian Artists Society. Awarded the National Gallery of Victoria travelling scholarship in 1920, she left for Europe next year to study in Paris and at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. She came under the influence of Charles Sims, Walter Sickert, Gerald Kelly and Ernest Jackson; according to Perry 'they taught me all the art I know'.

Settled in Sydney by 1926, Perry was a member of the Society of Artists and a founder of the Contemporary Group. She exhibited with a group at the Grosvenor Galleries in 1926, and at the Macquarie Galleries in 1927 and 1935. Her 'uncompromising manner, as well as her unswerving commitment to a modernist form of realism', were evident in her 'Nude Study' (1932). She had given private lessons before teaching (c.1927-30) day-classes at Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School. From 1930 she taught part-time at Presbyterian Ladies' College, Croydon. In 1937 she joined the conservative Australian Academy of Art.

Perry took advantage of the introduction in the 1920s of a soft, close-textured linoleum that was easier to cut than wooden blocks and could produce prints without a press. A major proponent of linocuts, she exhibited her work and taught the medium in Sydney. She focused on the importance of design, apparent in the sharp black-and-white contrasts and the rhythmic lines of hills, trees and waves in her work. In her numerous harbour and coastal views she presented a new and modern interpretation of a very traditional theme, with bold silhouettes and simplified forms.

In the early 1930s she established the Adelaide Perry Art School in Bridge Street, later moving to Pitt Street. She encouraged her students 'to work from the real object, in the traditional manner, and base their work on that of the old masters'. To achieve this end, she took them on painting expeditions into the bush close to Sydney or to Bradleys Head 'to give them rocks and water'. Among her noted pupils were Vera Blackburn and Mary Cooper Edwards.

Soon after the outbreak of World War II, Perry became full-time art mistress at P.L.C. She painted a portrait for the college of Eunice Macindoe, who was headmistress in 1946-56. Perry retired in 1962. Living at Hunters Hill, she continued to paint portraits and still lifes, and landscapes of her views across the Lane Cove and Parramatta rivers. She died on 19 November 1973 at Killara, and was cremated with Christadelphian forms. Admired in the 1930s for her distinctive painting style and draughtsmanship, she was influential as a teacher and printmaker.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Deutscher and R. Butler, A Survey of Australian Relief Prints, 1900-1950 (Melb, 1978)
  • J. Burke, Australian Women Artists 1840-1940 (Melb, 1980)
  • J. Kerr (ed), Heritage (Syd, 1995)
  • H. Topliss, Modernism and Feminism (Syd, 1996)
  • Art in Australia, Dec 1928, Sept 1929, Nov 1939
  • Aurora Australis, 1962, p 29
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 July 1927, 15 May 1935
  • H. de Berg, interview with A. E. Perry (transcript,1965, National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Charlotte Hayman, 'Perry, Adelaide Elizabeth (1891–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 June, 1891
Beechworth, Victoria, Australia


19 November, 1973 (aged 82)
Killara, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.