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Gladys Reynell (1881–1956)

by Noris Ioannou

This article was published:

Gladys Reynell (1881-1956), by unknown photographer, c1900

Gladys Reynell (1881-1956), by unknown photographer, c1900

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B25717

Gladys Reynell (1881-1956), potter, was born on 4 September 1881 at Glenelg, Adelaide, one of five children of Walter Reynell, land agent and vigneron, and his wife Emily, née Bakewell, a cousin of Elizabeth Nicholls. Educated at her Reynella home and Tormore House School, she travelled with her family in Europe in 1909. In Adelaide she studied painting with Margaret Rose Macpherson, who became a close friend. In 1912 they went to Europe, living and studying in Paris and Brittany and enjoying an idyllic life as artists until 1913 when they moved to live and paint in London; they also taught in Ireland. Gladys exhibited with the Old Salon in Paris, with several English groups, and at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the Walker Gallery, Liverpool.

Her sister Emily and brothers Rupert and Carew supported the war effort. Rupert, a neurologist, valued handicrafts in the rehabilitation of shell-shocked soldiers; he influenced Gladys and Rose Macpherson to learn pottery at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, London, in 1916. Next year a friend sent Gladys some Kangaroo Island clay which excited her: 'I thought then that it could be the most delightful thing on earth to make pots in Australia from virgin clay'. In 1918 Gladys and Rose began teaching pottery to soldiers at Seale Hayne Neurological Hospital, Devon.

In 1919, responding to her father's fatal illness, Gladys Reynell came home; in September she and McPherson shared an exhibition at Preece's Gallery. At Reynella Gladys established the Reynella Pottery; it was the first time in the State that one person was responsible, in all the stages, for producing practical, decorative ceramics. She exploited a seasoned dump of buff-coloured clay from a well at nearby McLaren Vale; built and fired her own kiln; threw simple, robust forms based on early European folk pottery; and decorated them with designs inspired by both Aboriginal art—she was probably the first potter to use this as a source—and the modernists.

Reynell's work anticipated that of the influential English studio potter Bernard Leach; she espoused the English Arts and Craft Movement's ideals concerning the handcraft ethic, and the integrity and tradition of early craftsmen. She investigated and emulated the work of Gottlieb Zoerner, an early South Australian potter. Reynell's closeness to Margaret Preston, as Rose was known after her marriage, and their receptiveness to modernism, is evident in Reynell's designs; the colour, form and primitivism of Roger Fry's Omega workshops also provided inspiration.

Reynell decorated her earthenware teapots, mugs, vases, plates, bowls and jugs, utilizing traditional English slipware and sgraffito techniques to produce abstract patterns, and to illustrate Australian fauna and flora, and local country and farm scenes which reveal her gentleness and warmth. Much of her work was finished with the characteristic rich 'Reynella blue' slip.

To the dismay of her family, on 14 August 1922 at St Mary's Church, Edwardstown, Gladys married George Samuel Osborne (né Wackett, 1883-1976), an ex-serviceman and gardener at Reynella; they had no children. In Ballarat, Victoria, they set up Osrey Pottery. With her husband as assistant, Gladys produced pottery for sale at fairs—she would throw her pots in the street, causing a sensation—and in shops until 1926, when George contracted lead poisoning from lead in the glazes. They moved to rural Curdievale where she resumed painting and making woodcuts. Her article, 'Knowledge or feeling in art' (Art in Australia, 15 August 1935), elaborates her philosophy; and her contribution, 'Reynella Pottery' to Louise Brown (ed.), A Book of South Australia (Adelaide, 1936), describes her method of making pottery.

From 1939 George and Gladys lived in Melbourne. In World War II she worked in the army pay corps, in the Taxation Office, and as a translator of French. They had a penurious existence until Gladys died of cancer on 16 November 1956; her husband scattered her ashes at Reynella. Her ceramics, the work of one of Australia's earliest studio potters, have been avidly collected since the late 1960s and are in most major art galleries, including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. The South Australian Art Gallery holds a portrait, by her friend Bessie Davidson, of a youthful, lively and pretty Gladys in riding habit.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Biven, Some Forgotten, Some Remembered (Adel, 1976)
  • N. Ioannou, Ceramics in South Australia 1836-1986 (Adel, 1986)
  • P. Timms, Australian Studio Pottery and China Painting (Melb, 1986)
  • R. Butler, The Prints of Margaret Preston (Melbourne, 1987)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16 Sept 1919
  • R. Appleyard, Interview with G. Osborne (manuscript, 1967, Art Gallery of South Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Noris Ioannou, 'Reynell, Gladys (1881–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Gladys Reynell (1881-1956), by unknown photographer, c1900

Gladys Reynell (1881-1956), by unknown photographer, c1900

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B25717

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Osborne, Gladys

4 September, 1881
Glenelg, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


16 November, 1956 (aged 75)