Oil, watercolour and china painter
Born at Amyton, on 1 June 1885, Maude Edith Gum was one of eleven children born to Joseph and Elizabeth Gum. Over the years her name has been written as Maud but more often as Maude. She attended the local school until 1900 and worked during that time and after on the family farm. Being heavily involved with the Methodist Church, like the rest of her family, she entered a South Australian wide Essay Competition in 1903 to celebrate the Bicentenary of John Westley and won first prize in the under 18 division.
From an early age Maude joined the Sunbeams, an organisation which collected donations for extra beds at the Children’s Hospital. In 1911 Maude became a member of the Hammond Liberal Society, of which her mother was President. With looking after her younger siblings, it would have been busy times but she still found time to emerge herself in her hobby, which was outdoor painting. Her rural upbringing would later influence her painting style and subjects.
After the death of her father in 1907 Maude remained at Amyton but eventually moved to Adelaide with her mother and sister while some of the brothers continued farming at Amyton. Maude now had more time for her painting and in her early twenties enrolled at an elementary class conducted by Miss Von der Borch. In 1916 she enrolled in James Ashton’s Academy of Arts, which was situated in Grenfell Street, Adelaide and soon became one of his star pupils. James had started his 40 year teaching stint at Prince Alfred College the year Maude was born.
In December 1922 Maude won two gold medals for her paintings. A few months later she was awarded a gold star for her work shown in London. In 1924 she received tuition at Ashton's Academy from Miss L McNamara. That same year, on 18 December, she won a gold medal at its Annual Prize Giving.
To gain some more experience and undertake further study she sailed to Sydney in February 1925 on the steamer Katoomba for a six month tour of Sydney and the Blue Mountains. In 1926 she held her first solo exhibition in the Institute Building on North Terrace, Adelaide.
On 2 September 1926 the News reported that; ‘Sir William Sowden will tomorrow afternoon open an exhibition of oil paintings by Miss Maude E Gum, a member of the South Australian Society of Arts, whose work has received favourable comment at the society's shows. Miss Gum studied with Mr James Ashton and Miss M Grigg in Adelaide, and last year she spent seven months in Sydney, where she continued her studies with Messrs Will Ashton, Dattilo Rubbo and James Jackson.
There are 88 pictures on the walls of the Society of Arts’ gallery, the majority of them being studies of Sydney Harbour in all its atmospheric moods, views at Narrabeen and other New South Wales coastal beauties, and sylvan scenes from South Australia, principally in the foothills regions of Magill and Glen Osmond.
Miss Gum is evidently an indefatigable worker, and her exhibition is distinctly meritorious. She combines a good colour sense with correct draughtsmanship and an eye for the picturesque, and she is happy in her sky and sea effects. There is certain sameness about many of the interpretations of kindred studies, but it is a pleasing sameness. The exhibition will remain open until 16 September’.
At the opening address on 3 September Sir William said that Miss Gum was to be congratulated upon having so attractive an exhibition and so many people present at the opening ceremony. Sir William said Miss Gum had taken up her art wholeheartedly.
She was one of the many Australian artists who had benefited by the encouragement of Mr James Ashton. She had worked in his studio, under the tuition of Miss McNamara, and had won the gold medal and scholarship at Mr Ashton's Academy of Arts. The gold medal for sketching in 1921 and the gold star of the Royal Drawing Society of London.
In addition to this Miss Gum had studied under Miss May Grigg, first winner of the Melrose prize for portraiture. In Sydney Miss Gum had gained fresh inspiration from Will Ashton. He hoped that she would not think it necessary to go to Europe to continue her studies, but develop her gifts in her own land, for so only, could a truly Australian school of painting be developed.
He complimented Maude on her work and on the unusually large number of people present at the opening of the exhibition and wished her all the success to this ‘One Woman Show’. As a direct result of the success Maude Edith Gum had achieved, plus her advancement in the Art, the distinction of Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts was bestowed upon her that same year.
Although Maude was busy painting and successful she never forgot her country roots. Evidence of this is provided by the many subjects of her landscape paintings and water colours of rural settings. In 1927 she was back in Amyton to join friends and the many members of her own and extended family to celebrate the Methodist Church Jubilee. She was also a member of the Ladies’ Guild of Maylands. In October 1930 she exhibited at the Argonaut Galleries on North Terrace where she had entered her latest work Waterfall Gully.
Maude now also started her china painting, although oil painting remained her preferred medium. In October 1931 she held another solo exhibition where she showed 15 watercolours, 63 oil paintings and 57 china paintings. Once again the News reported that; ‘An exhibition of oils, watercolours, and china paintings by Miss Maude E Gum, of North Norwood, will be opened by Mrs Francis J Fisher at the South Australian Society of Arts Gallery, North Terrace, Adelaide, at 3.30 p.m. tomorrow. The exhibition will remain open until 14 November.
Miss Gum has been exhibiting with the Society of Arts for 10 years. Her first exhibition was held in 1926. She is a member of the Council of the society. Miss Gum's works are noted for their strength of colour, especially her more recent paintings. She prefers oils to watercolours. Two of her outstanding oils at the exhibition will be still life studies of stocks and petunias. A bowl of phlox is one of the most artistic of the paintings on view.
Gum tree studies predominate among the oils, and most of them are full of strong sunlight. They were painted at Morialta, Clarendon, Magill, and other parts of the State. Of the 15 watercolours Marigolds and Dahlias Botanic Gardens are perhaps the best. The colour in Marigolds is very clean, and the blue bowl harmonises well with the flowers. The china paintings represent 12 months’ work by Miss Gum. This is her first exhibition in china. A blue lustre jewel box appeals most in this section’.
The Advertiser had a slightly different opinion about her work as it reported that ‘The work of Miss Gum, at the exhibition to be opened by Mrs Francis Fisher at the Society of Arts Gallery is of much better quality than that at her last show in 1926. Since that date she has developed a taste for watercolours, and china painting, but in the main remains faithful to her first love—oils.
The predominant features of her work are good draughtsmanship and correct perspective, added to the charm of pleasing subjects. The watercolours show direct clean work, and include both landscapes and still life. Of the former, Dahlias Botanic Gardens is particularly attractive, with a nice colour scheme against the bold background of trees and hedge. Along the Creek, also has a richness of colour and good distance.
The most ambitious of the oil colours is The Creek, in which the trees are particularly well done, and there is a real sense of space in the distance. In most of her landscapes Miss Gum portrays her distances excellently, and this is particularly noticeable in Across the Fields. In Stocks, the pale tints of the flowers are well contrasted against the rich blue of the bowl and the yellow of the brass vase.
The collection of china is a comprehensive one, and shows the versatility of the artist. Generally speaking, the designs are good, the majority being of a conventional nature. The brooches are particularly dainty’.
A few years later, after viewing another of her exhibitions in October 1935, it was stated by The Advertiser that ‘exhibitions arranged by Maude Gum are always attractive and the one to be opened today is up to her usual standard of worth. The pictorial portion comprises about 50 oils and watercolours, which present nature in all her best moods.
Country Roads, with hills and trees seem to make an especial appeal to this versatile artist, and her best works include several of this type. Morning in the Hills is a delightful combination of green trees and blue hills, while in The Leaning Chimney the autumn foliage makes a fine contrast against the weatherworn cottages. The Old Barn is another charming sketch, in which the colour of flowers and shrubs shows artistically against the light tones of the masonry.
Corner of the Garden is full of warm and bright colour, and Valley, Montacute shows a fine expanse of valley and hills, rich in timber: The Veteran makes a nice pair with this. Garden Fullarton and The Bend of the Road are also full of pleasing features.
There are two or three small sea scapes, showing movement and fine colour, associated with good sky effects. Miss Gum's hand-painted china shows a wealth of design—conventional, floral, and scenic—and is very dainty in colour. It includes a varied assortment of plaques, vases, tea and salad sets. A particularly charming piece is a cup and saucer in green, with a pink floral motif. Another delightful design is in biscuit and blue tones. A blue and pale pink teapot is pleasing in design and colouring’.
Maude often donated one of her works for a good cause or as a prize in a competition. On 18 March 1936 Lady Bonython opened her exhibition at which Maude donated one of her pictures. In February 1939 she donated one of her paintings to be auctioned to the Bushfire Fund.
In 1937 the Gum family organised a reunion at 13 Wellington Road Norwood at the home of Maude’s mother who was now 84 years old. Naturally Maude was there as were many of the large extended family. Maude’s brothers had come from as far away as Kaniva, Maitland, Perth and Brookton. Elizabeth died on 4 February 1943, aged 90 years.
By the mid-1930s, comments were often made about that Maude had improved beyond belief and that she ‘delights the eye and mind with small but well-done studies of bush and river’. It was also said that she was very painstaking and sincere.
In September 1938 Maude was an art instructor at some of the leading Australian girls’ colleges and particularly distinguished for her watercolours, which had all the quality and clarity requisite for this fickle medium of the arts. In 1939 a visitor to the Wilderness School was delighted at the clever work of the students who were taught by Maude. During the same time Maud also conducted art classes from home.
A month later the News made it known that Dr Charles Fenner would open Miss Maud Gum's display of watercolours and oils at the Institute Galleries. It said that ‘Miss Gum is a very sincere painter, and has made much progress. A keen observer, she takes no chances, but goes to Nature in rain and shine, painting what she sees with love and devotion.
Many young painters have the habit of picking out junks of scenery and resting content with an outpouring that will please the uneducated mind. There is nothing of this about Miss Gum. Study after study is made of the particular view she has in mind and then when she has drunk her fill she will set to work. Her watercolours, particularly those of groups of trees growing in the hills district, show a clarity and sense of colour very telling in effect.
There is now a sureness of handling that is in marked contrast to the rather involved washes we have previously seen and commented on. Altogether Miss Gum has presented us with some good Australian art which I hope art lovers will go to see. In the small watercolour views of the Sturt Valley from a rocky height Miss Gum is at her best. She is also very pleasing in her flower and fruit studies in oil. The latter have quite an old Dutch feeling’.
Two days later, according to The Advertiser, ‘The exhibition of water colours, oils, and hand-painted china by Miss Maude Gum, is very pleasing and attractive. Miss Gum seems to have come under new influences since her last exhibition, as her work is decidedly stronger, especially in her landscapes. Generally, this artist's watercolours are preferable to the oils, and her choice of subject is invariably a happy one.
A Little Bit of Birdwood and Trees on the Ridge, for instance, are simple and direct, but artistic. The clear washes in The Verdant Valley, with no striving after effect, make it very attractive. Spring Blossoms is a dainty bit of colour, and the harmony of water and trees in The Torrens at Birdwood is another example of direct, clean work.
There are some very attractive garden scenes full of bright but not glaring colour. Among the oils, Sentinels by the Stream stands out prominently, the massive trees and placid water contrasting with the luscious grass very effectively. A Morialta View, a delicate tracery of greens against a well handled distance, is a pleasing sketch, and The Back Road a homely and well-drawn scene, artistically handled. In still life, Autumn Fruits and Flowers is the outstanding piece. Miss Gum also exhibits a large collection of hand-painted china, in which conventional designs or floral motifs are very daintily executed’
During her most productive time, Maude’s work was accepted, catalogued and sold in leading South Australian fine art exhibitions. It was appreciated far and wide. In a book entitled ‘A Book of South Australia: Women in the First Hundred Years’, printed in 1936, Maude Gum was represented by a reproduction of an oil painting, A late afternoon in the Ranges at Narrabeen near Sydney.
At a show in April 1940 it was stated that Maude’s offerings brighten up the wall like a spotlight. Her works were on show every year, sometimes several times in the same year. Comments were always favourable. At the autumn show in 1941 her watercolours and fine studies of the outback were admired by all. At the spring show of the same year her works of riverside and bush scenes were judged as the best she had ever done.
In 1942 the Education Department of South Australia paid a tribute to Maude Gum, by using a reproduced copy of her painting Australian Gums on the front page of the Children’s Hour Journal Vol. XLVIII No. 539 produced for use in South Australian Schools. Three years later her landscapes and country scenes were again judged as bright and colourful.
Country shows attracted many visitors in September 1946 when she had an exhibition with other leading South Australian artists in Mount Gambier. An exhibition in Jamestown in August 1947, which included works by Albert Namatjira from the Hermannsburg Mission, was also well attended. In November 1948 she was back in Mount Gambier followed by Port Lincoln in 1949.
In July 1950 Maude Gum joined forces with May Grigg, Constance Archer and Walter Wotzke at the Curzon Gallery, Gawler Place, in the display of their paintings. This time the art reporter of the News, Ivor Francis wasn’t impressed. The work of Mary Grigg he found the most accomplished.
That of Walter Wotzke he found most interesting, whereas Constance Archer had yet to arrive. Maude’s work he found the most limited. According to him she was a descendant, many generations removed, of the Corot-Hilder ideal and presented emotive fragments in a heavy sentimental vein.
A year later Maude exhibited a representative collection of a hundred paintings at the Maylands Methodist Church. They included oil paintings, watercolours, charcoal drawings and pencil sketches. By now Maud was well into her sixties but just as active as a 40 year old. During later years she did change her activities gradually. She remained as a teacher at Wilderness until 1955, but had fewer exhibitions. In January 1953 she advertised that her oil, watercolour and china painting classes would resume on 13 February at 13 Wellington Road, Trinity Gardens.
When Maude turned 70 she was still an active member of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts. Maude worked tirelessly for the revival of china painting during the 1960s. In 1967 as the latest gesture of appreciation of Gum’s work, she had Honorary Life Membership conferred upon her by the South Australian Society of Arts, at the same time as the noted painter Sir Hans Heysen received his. Heysen had also been a student of James Ashton.
In 1969 a Melbourne enthusiast conducted an Exhibition of Gum’s paintings in the Malvern Fine Art Gallery, Melbourne. At this Exhibition a further mark of distinction was the purchase of the picture James Ashton’s Studio by the Academy of Art in Canberra. James had died on 2 August 1935 and was buried at St Jude’s cemetery Brighton.
Over the years Maude Gum had walked many miles, often in adverse weather, carrying her painting outfit to portray on canvas the many beautiful scenes that today are handed down to posterity. In addition to her painting activities, she found time during the late 1920s to learn elocution from Edward Reeves in which field she obtained the A.L.C.M. In 1931 she made an outstanding contribution to an excellent elocutionary programme at the Society of Arts.
Maude Edith Gum remained single, had no children and lived at her home in Norwood and later, after her retirement at 202 Portrush Road, Trinity Gardens, South Australia, where she often conducted private painting classes. She died, at the age of 88 on 19 August 1973 and is buried at the Payneham Cemetery.
Even after her death her work was still sought after and exhibited or offered at auctions. At an exhibition in Goolwa in May 1976 some of her works were included as was the case in the Victor Harbor exhibition in 1985. Among some of her better known paintings are Willunga Hills, A Glimpse of the Murray, Landscape with Gums, King William Street, Autumn Landscape and Piccadilly Valley.
With special thanks to Marg Keane for some of the information.