Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Rose Skinner (1900–1979)

by Philippa O'Brien

This article was published:

Rose Skinner (1900-1979), art-dealer, was born on 30 December 1900 in Perth, sixth child and only daughter of Samuel Dvoretsky, a woodcutter from Russia who became a farmer, and his wife Mary, née Coyle. Rose was raised at Rockingham and educated at Methodist Ladies' College, Perth. At the district registrar's office, Perth, on 17 September 1924 she married Herbert Drysdale Varley, a businessman; they were divorced in 1930. On 5 September 1934 at Kegalla, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), she married John Wastell Harrison. Back in Perth by 1939, she worked as a censor during World War II and divorced her husband in November 1945.

On 11 June 1946, in his home at 40 Mount Street, Perth, Rose married with Methodist forms Josiah James Skinner, a divorcee. They had both belonged to the Workers' Art Guild, an association of left-wing intellectuals. 'Joe' Skinner, a builder and real-estate agent, collected art, antique silver and books. When he decided to develop his Mount Street property, Rose persuaded him to build a gallery. An attractive, exposed brick and glass edifice, it reflected his interest in contemporary architecture and design. The Skinner Galleries, opened on 14 October 1958, held 214 exhibitions over the next eighteen years. Furnished with a grand piano, they were frequently used for concerts and literary events. In the early years they also housed a bookshop. The Skinners lived in one of the flats in the same building.

From the beginning the galleries were financially successful. Rose Skinner insisted on selling on commission. In 1959 the artists Robert Juniper, Brian McKay, Guy Grey-Smith, Tom Gibbons and Maurice Stubbs, all members of the Perth Group, held an exhibition at the galleries. The group broke up within three years, mainly because Grey-Smith objected to Skinner's management. Following a showing in 1962 of (Sir) Sidney Nolan's paintings (which netted £10,000 in sales), Skinner was able to employ an assistant. Nolan and other leading artists—Arthur Boyd, Albert Tucker, Fred Williams and Hal Missingham—were frequent exhibitors.

Quick to spot talent and ready to listen to advice, Skinner fostered the careers of Western Australian artists, among them Juniper, McKay, Howard Taylor and George Haynes. She helped Juniper in particular, but restricted the exhibition of his work in other Australian galleries, and emphasized its more superficial and commercially attractive aspects. By supporting the Perth Society of Artists, to which most of Western Australia's professional artists belonged, she did much to encourage the visual arts in Perth. She was energetic, informed and persuasive, and had wide national and international connexions. In 1965-67, in association with the Festival of Perth, she co-ordinated arrangements for the T. E. Wardle Invitation Art Prize at her galleries.

In 1972 Skinner was appointed M.B.E. The Skinner Galleries were closed in 1976, after her health deteriorated. Survived by her husband, she died on 17 September 1979 at Subiaco and was cremated with Anglican rites. She bequeathed her collection of paintings to the University of Western Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • P. O'Brien, Robert Juniper (NY, 1992)
  • J. Mills, I Buried My Dolls in the Garden (Perth, 1999)
  • University of Western Australia, University of News, 9, no 6, Aug 1978, p 1
  • Art and Australia, 17, no 2, Dec 1979, p 136
  • West Australian, 27 Sept 1979
  • Skinner Galleries records (State Library of Western Australia)
  • family information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Philippa O'Brien, 'Skinner, Rose (1900–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Varley, Rose
  • Harrison, Rose
  • Dvoretsky, Rose

30 December, 1900
Perth, Western Australia, Australia


17 September, 1979 (aged 78)
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.