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Horace Hurtle Trenerry (1899–1958)

by Lou Klepac

This article was published:

Horace Hurtle Trenerry (1899-1958), artist, was born on 5 December 1899 in Adelaide, second of five children of Horace Trenerry, butcher, and his wife Florence Mary, née Pridmore. Having left school, he lived with an aunt who encouraged his artistic interests and provided his first studio. He worked for F. H. Faulding & Co., bottling cough mixture, but studied drawing at night-classes and went sketching on the weekends; he then joined a group who met at Arthur Milbank's studio where he learned the rudiments of painting. After being employed in a drapery at Kadina where he was remembered as 'artistic, slightly effeminate and quiet', he returned to Adelaide about 1918 and joined Archibald Collins's studio at the Royal Exchange Building. He probably gained a feeling for paint quality here, before leaving to join James Ashton's Academy of Arts; his 'Hay Stooks', sent by Ashton to the Royal Drawing Society, London, received a gold star medal in 1920. Horace had first exhibited at the Federal Exhibition of the (Royal) South Australian Society of Arts in 1918, showing four still-life paintings.

Winning a scholarship to the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts, he worked under Fred Britton. When Britton became principal of the School of Fine Arts at North Adelaide in 1921, Trenerry went with him, although often unable to pay the fees. Next year he attended Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School for a few months and met Elioth Gruner who influenced him; Trenerry painted several fine views of Sydney at this time. Back in Adelaide, he re-established himself in the hills and shared a studio with d'Auvergne Boxall in town. Trenerry's first one-man exhibition at the Society of Arts gallery in 1924 included sixty-four works; almost everything sold and he received excellent reviews. This pattern was repeated over succeeding years during which the artist revelled in the good life: parties, dancing and distinguished friends. A gifted pianist, he was at once generous, witty and charming, and reckless, eccentric and temperamental. In the late 1920s he was encouraged by Hans Heysen whose pencil portrait of Trenerry (1931) is in the Art Gallery of South Australia. In 1930, inspired by Heysen's example, he visited the Flinders Ranges and was profoundly affected. It marked the beginning of his individual style.

Trenerry's fortunes plummeted in the Depression; whereas his previous solo exhibitions had sold out with prices as high as £52, by 1933 they dropped to a few guineas. He sold as many possessions as he could, paid some debts and in late 1934 moved to Willunga on the south coast where he occupied a deserted two-storey building. Friends sent food which helped him to survive. The work he now produced was remarkable, with a delicate sense of colour and strong design; he evolved into a unique painter having greater affinities—in his choice of colour and use of pigment—with English contemporaries such as Gwen John than any Australian. Trenerry's exhibition in 1938 at the Riddell Galleries, Little Collins Street, Melbourne, was reviewed favourably by Basil Burdett, but was criticized by Harold Herbert for a 'monochromatic muddiness of colour'. Only one painting sold.

In 1940 Trenerry enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; he was soon discharged as medically unfit. After a short period as a mess steward in the Royal Australian Air Force, he returned to the south coast. This crucial period of his life coincided with the onset of the inherited disease, Huntington's chorea. As his work grew bold and characterized by chalky paint and lyrical colour, his health deteriorated. He neglected himself, ate irregularly and became testy. His poverty, his loss of co-ordinated movement and his inability to paint saddened the years before he entered the Home for Incurables, Adelaide, in 1951. In September 1953 a retrospective exhibition was organized at John Martin & Co. Ltd's gallery. The artist attended in a wheelchair. Trenerry died, unmarried, on 10 January 1958 and was buried in West Terrace cemetery. Two of his works were included in the Tate gallery's exhibition of Australian painting in 1962-63.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Klepac, Horace Trenerry (Adel, 1970)
  • Art in Australia, 8, Dec 1970
  • E. Harry, ‘H. H. Trenerry’, Personalities Remembered (radio talk, manuscript, 12 Sept 1971, State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Lou Klepac, 'Trenerry, Horace Hurtle (1899–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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