She could have been one of our great-aunts. She was from that remarkable generation of educated, unmarried women who chose to make an independent life as mistresses of their own destinies. Jessie Traill (1881-1967) is the subject of a new biography by Jo Oliver. It is Oliver’s fifth book. Jessie Traill’s life-long ‘occupations’ were art and travel. Encouraged to paint from an early age by Tom Roberts, she became one of the first women in Australia to practise etching. She attended the National Gallery school in Melbourne then studied in London and Paris where, in 1909, her etchings were hung in significant galleries. Later that year in Melbourne, she held her first one-woman show of paintings, both oil and water-colour.
World War l brought more opportunities for adventure; she went to England, joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment and nursed in military hospitals near Rouen. Back here, Traill joined the Australian Painter-Etchers’ Society, entering her etchings and aquatints in the annual exhibitions. Her subjects included trees and the moods of the landscape but she was also attracted by industrial sites including mines, factories and buildings under scaffolding, most notably, the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The National Gallery of Australia last year presented a retrospective of her prints. Her papers are held at the State Library of Victoria. Jessie Traill lived through dramatically changing times; hers was a big life, adventurous and creative.
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