When Ibsen’s controversial play A Doll’s House opened to packed audiences at Melbourne’s Princes Theatre, the slam of the door as Nora left her husband in the final act echoed in the minds of thousands of young Australian women. This book is about four of these women, born in Victoria between 1867 and 1893, who lived through the changes which swept across life, culture and art during the early twentieth century. Four short biographies trace their parallel lives.
From Rome, Dora Ohlfsen established a career as a celebrated sculptor. With Mussolini’s support, she became the only expatriate sculptor in Italy commissioned with a national war memorial. Significantly, her Anzac medal was the first commemorative work of art memorialising the Anzacs. From Paris, Louise Dyer invigorated music publishing and recording, helping to transform musical culture world-wide. Her label Les Éditions de L’Oiseau-Lyre laid the foundations of the modern early music revival and helped shape the notion of ‘authenticity’ in musical performance. From London, Clarice Zander promoted cultural understanding as a curator and as the publicist for the Royal Academy. She pioneered the modern marketing of art and curated Australia’s first important exhibition of contemporary British art. From New York, Mary Cecil Allen, painter, critic, and educator, working at the centre of modern art, inspired many. She ran the first touring exhibition of contemporary Australian art in the United States.
Modern women of the arts, they awoke to their full potential and created opportunities for others to do likewise.
Praise for Awakening
‘A compelling work of cultural history … All these women’s lives are deeply interesting. They reached out and took what the world had on offer and awakened generations of women to what was possible to achieve in the arts. Awakening is generously illustrated, and a well-written, immaculately researched testament to their legacy.’ – Annette Hughes, Inside History
‘Clear, concise and vividly-drawn profiles bring to life these inspiring Australians’ – Gwen Bennett, The Music Trust
‘This book is a vibrant examination of these four women’s struggle for recognition during a time of great social turmoil between the wars. It also examines the unwillingness of Australia to accept Modernism. An enthralling read.’ – Lynne Lancaster, Sydney Arts Guide
‘The four mini-biographies make fascinating individual stories. Together, they are even more absorbing, persuasive and enlightening … It is fortunate that these four almost forgotten women have found such chroniclers as Eileen Chanin and Steven Miller. Their re-emergence as women of substance, significance and assertion can only be aided by this commendable book.’ – Stephen Davenport, InDaily
‘[Awakening] Four Lives in Art couldn’t be more different to the last biography I read, but the undertaking is the same: to rescue from obscurity Australians whose lives have been overlooked … [it] is a really interesting book which augments the literature of art history in our country.’ – Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
‘A meticulously researched biography.’ – Sasha Grishin, Sydney Morning Herald
‘These fascinating, actively entrepreneurial lives easily capture a reader’s attention at the direct level of lifestory narratives that makes for admirable literary non-fiction.’ – Dr Juliette Peers, Australian Quarterly
‘The book is a gem with its four biographies meticulously researched and written, supported by photographic documentation and reproduction of artworks, where relevant. It is beautifully designed too by Wakefield Press.’ – Catherine Speck, Journal of Australian Studies
Eileen Chanin and Steven Miller are Sydney-based authors. Eileen Chanin is a historian at the University of New South Wales, and is currently the Menzies Fellow at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, King’s College London. Steven Miller heads the National Art Archive at the Art Gallery of New South Wales Sydney. Their last book, Degenerates and Perverts: The 1939 Herald Exhibition of French and British Contemporary Art (2005), received the NSW Premier’s Australian History Award. They also co-authored The Art and Life of Weaver Hawkins (1995). Eileen Chanin’s other books include Limbang Rebellion: 7 Days in December 1962 (2013) and Book Life: The life and times of David Scott Mitchell (2011). Steven Miller’s Dogs in Australian Art was published by Wakefield Press in 2012.
Paperback, 272pp, 2015
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