Kathleen Sauerbier, A modern pursuit

Kathleen Sauerbier

Kathleen Sauerbier, A modern pursuit

by Gloria Strzelecki

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Kathleen Margaret Sauerbier was born on 21 January 1903 to John James Sauerbier and Mary Anne Louisa Locke who were married on 27 February 1902 at the Brighton Inn. At the age of 14 Kathleen was attending St Peterís Girls School in Adelaide. She did well and had several short stories published in the schoolís magazine. She displayed a great sense of humour, loved her family, painting, design, books, music, animals and flowers. One of Kathleen closest friends was Audrey Hardy.

The Sauerbier family originally came from Germany. Christian Sauerbier arrived in Australia in 1845. He settled near Happy Valley and ten years later married Margaret Ann Tapley. Christian accumulated eleven sections of land and developed it as the Happy Valley Estate. When he died on 31 October 1895 he was burried at the Happy Valley cemetery. His eldest son John Christian, born in 1858, took over the estate. During World War I John changed his name to John Chris Aberfoyle. Later the suburb of Aberfoyle Park was named after him.

After finishing school Kathleen attended the School of Fine Arts in North Adelaide. As a lover of nature and landscapes she was drawn to the coast of Fleurieu Peninsula and in particular to the Port Willunga area. She was not the only one. Many other South Australian artists have been, and still are drawn to that area of gently landscapes and vineyards. However it was Kathleen who was among the first to respond to it using a modernist approach.

Like so many other Australian artists Kathleen, who was interested in, and wanted to connect with, the modern world soon felt the need to travel to Europe. Europe would expose her to great art collections, artists and landscapes.

On 20 March 1925 Kathleen left for London to further her studies accompanied by her parents and long-time friend Audrey Hardy. She enrolled at the Central School of Art and had a great time studying and travelling, visiting many museums in England and France. Both Kathleen and Audrey often undertook painting excursions. After returning to London she continued her art studies until the end of 1927 after which she returned to Australia.

Kathleenís homecoming on 24 January 1928 was not a happy one. After more than two years of travel, study and painting she felt exhausted and moved back to her parentsí home in Malvern. It took a long time to regain her strength again. Although she did visit the Willunga area several times, her general ill health reduced the number of paintings she was able to complete.

Whereas before Kathleen had concentrated mainly on landscapes, she now moved on to portraits and still lives. All the while she felt isolated from Europe and its art. She found Adelaide stiflingly provincial and the perceived hostility towards her modernist style of painting, by such artists as Hans Heysen and Lionel Lindsay, did not help either. Despite these problems her artistic output slowly increased as she remained passionate and determined. In 1930 and 1931 she had enough works completed to exhibit with the South Australian Society of Arts.

Kathleenís desire for a quiet and simple life resulted in her moving to Port Willunga, which became her spiritual home. Now she was able to paint as many landscapes as she liked, including many of the South Coast. At her annual exhibition with the South Australian Society of Arts she now also included still lives, portraits and even some of her European works. In 1934 Kathleen had her first one-person exhibition, which was visited by some well-known Adelaide Society Ladies, among them Lady Kidman. Reviews though were mixed but the exhibition proved a personal and financial success. During that same year she was elected a fellow of the South Australian Society of Arts. The following year Kathleen exhibited her works in both Adelaide and Melbourne.

Melbourne proved to be attractive, in more ways than one. Her work there was much more appreciated than in Adelaide. While there she also met the man of her dreams, John Balwyn Bryce. In 1937 Kathleen moved to Melbourne and on 23 December married Bryce. The following years were fruitful and she painted many city and street scapes, rather than her usual landscapes. Kathleen also became a member of the Contemporary Art Society.

Although more than happy in Melbourne, Kathleen had not forgotten Port Willunga. In 1940 she and her husband bought her old home, Manor House. Now she was able to visit it on a yearly basis and paint her favoured landscapes. All this came to a sudden end in 1947 when Kathleen was seriously burnt, when a kerosene appliance exploded, and was admitted to hospital where she remained for nine months. The Manor House was later sold to Lady Ursula Hayward, private art collector of Carrick Hill.

After the completion of their new house in Donvale, Victoria, Kathleen set about creating a home and superb garden and started experimenting with fabric design. Husband John, who was a chemical engineer, was very supportive of Kathleenís work and career and later expressed the desire to become an artist as well. With the help and encouragement of Kathleen he soon made progress and before long they were both painting in the same studio.

After the sale of Manor House Kathleen continued to visit Port Willunga and the South Coast but now stayed at the Christies Beach Hotel. She remained active and kept painting and producing other works of art until 1980 when her husband died. One of her last exhibitions in Adelaide was in 1984 and Aldinga in 1986. Kathleen died on 11 March 1991 aged 88.

The name Kathleen Sauerbier is not yet widely known in Australian Art. The standard references to Australian artists make no mention of her. Being a perfectionist Kathleen would discard any work which did not come up to her standards. As a direct result her catalogue of works is relative small compared to some other artists. With Gloria Strzelecki's publication it is hoped that the name Sauerbier will become better known and her contribution to art more appreciated.

Carrick Hill, the old home of Lady Hayward, will be hosting the first major retrospective exhibition in 27 years of works by Kathleen Sauerbier from 11 March until 26 June 2011.

Review by Nic Klaassen

Kathleen Sauerbier, A modern pursuit by Gloria Strzelecki,
with footnotes, index of works and many photographs,
is available at $34.95, from
Wakefield Press

Telephone 08 8352 4455

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