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Eric Prentice Anchor Thake (1904–1982)

by Kirsty Grant

This article was published:

Eric Thake, by Sarah Chinnery, c1955

Eric Thake, by Sarah Chinnery, c1955

National LIbrary of Australia, nla.pic-vn4554373

Eric Prentice Anchor Thake (1904-1982), artist, was born on 8 June 1904 at Auburn, Melbourne, elder child of Victorian-born parents Henry Thake, dairyman, and his wife Emily, née Doran. As a young child Eric was enthralled by Cole’s Funny Picture Books, crediting to them his habit of ‘seeing the unfamiliar in the familiar’. He left school in 1918 and was apprenticed to Patterson Shugg Pty Ltd, a firm of process engravers. Working in the art department, he learned the skills of precise drawing that would become a distinctive feature of his art.

In 1922 Thake joined evening classes at the National Gallery Drawing School, Melbourne, with Bernard Hall and W. B. McInnes as teachers. He also studied sculpture at the Melbourne Working Men’s College and later, in the 1960s, with Stanley Hammond at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Strongly influenced by (Sir) Lionel Lindsay’s wood engravings, Thake’s first prints were engraved on stereotyping metal. From 1925 to 1928 he attended classes with George Bell part time.

Thake received an honourable mention at the 1931 Ex Libris Association Exhibition of Bookplates in Los Angeles for his linocut ‘Bookplate for Jean Daley’. In 1933 he exhibited relief prints with Eveline Syme, Ethel Spowers and Dorrit Black at the Modern Art Centre in Sydney. Thake married Grace Bessie Doris Godfrey on 20 December 1935 at the office of the government statist, Melbourne. In 1940 he shared with James Gleeson the Contemporary Art Society prize for the painting ‘Salvation from the Evils of Earthly Existence’. The subsequent acceptance of both surrealistic paintings by the National Gallery of Victoria outraged conservative circles in the art world. A Checklist of the Bookplates of Eric Thake was published in 1942 with an introduction by R. H. Croll. Thake went on to win the Geelong prize for watercolours (1947), the Yorick Club prize (1956) and the Victorian Artists’ Society Cato prize (1957).

On 24 November 1943 Thake enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force and worked at No.1 School of Technical Training, Melbourne, as a draughtsman. Reclassified to leading aircraftman in May 1944, he was commissioned in October and employed in the RAAF War History Section. From January to March 1945 he served in New Guinea, where his artistic talents were put to use recording air force activities. Tasked with interpreting the spirit of the RAAF, he revelled in the abundance of new subjects and the freedom to make art full time, a luxury not otherwise available to him. Promoted to flying officer in April 1945, Thake was demobilised on 28 March 1946.

Having begun working as a commercial artist for an advertising agency in 1926, Thake resumed this career following World War II. In addition, he undertook numerous significant commissions including two cover illustrations for Meanjin (1950); the design of the Young Men’s Christian Association Centenary stamp (1955); backdrops for display cases at the National Museum of Victoria depicting Aboriginal life and customs (1956); a mural in the boardroom of Imperial Chemical Industries House, Melbourne (1959); and the design of three stamps commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the first England-Australia flight (1969). He left the advertising world in 1956 to take up a position as a medical draughtsman in the visual aids department at the University of Melbourne, retiring in 1970.

Solo exhibitions of Thake’s work were held at Georges Gallery, Melbourne, in 1947 and the Newcastle City Art Gallery in 1968. A retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria (1970) and solo exhibitions at the Geelong Art Gallery (1976) and the Victorian Ministry for the Arts (1981) followed.

A master of finding inspiration in his immediate surrounds, Thake always carried a sketchbook or something on which to record the sights that inspired his imagery; from the 1950s this included a camera. With a refined technique that emphasised design and colour harmonies, he possessed the ability to find the extraordinary in the everyday and to inject his subject with humour and wit. Among his best-known works is a series of printed Christmas cards that were sent to friends over forty years. Predeceased by his wife (d.1976) and survived by their two daughters, Thake died on 3 November 1982 at Geelong and his body was donated to the anatomy department of the University of Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Summons, The Eric Thake Picture Book (1978)
  • An Individual View – Photographs by Eric Thake (1981)
  • P. Pinson, Eric Thake: War Artist (1991)
  • Art in Australia, no 51, 1933, pp 39-43
  • Art and Australia, vol 15, no 1, 1977, pp 47-54
  • A9300, item THAKE E P A (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kirsty Grant, 'Thake, Eric Prentice Anchor (1904–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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