Constance Stokes was a modernist Australian painter who worked in Victoria. Influenced by George Bell, she was part of the Melbourne Contemporary Artists, a group Bell established in 1940. She was one of only two women, and two Victorians, included in a major exhibition of twelve Australian artists that travelled to Canada, the United Kingdom and Italy in the early 1950s.
About Constance Stokes in brief
Constance Stokes was a modernist Australian painter who worked in Victoria. She trained at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School until 1929, winning a scholarship to continue her study at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. Influenced by George Bell, she was part of the Melbourne Contemporary Artists, a group Bell established in 1940. She was one of only two women, and two Victorians, included in a major exhibition of twelve Australian artists that travelled to Canada, the United Kingdom and Italy in the early 1950s. Her husband’s early death in 1962 forced Stokes to return to painting as a career, resulting in a successful one-woman show in 1964. She continued to paint and exhibit through the 1970s and 1980s, and was the subject of a retrospective exhibition that toured Victorian regional galleries including Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery and Geelong Art Gallery in 1985. She died in 1991 and is little-known in comparison to some other women artists including Grace Cossington Smith and Clarice Beckett, but her fortunes were revived somewhat as a central figure in Anne Summers’ 2009 book The Lost Mother. Her art is represented in most major Australian galleries, including the National gallery of Australia and the NationalGallery of Victoria; the Art Gallery of New South Wales is the only significant Australian collecting institution not to hold one of her works. In the mid-twentieth century in the Melbourne art scene, there were divisions against modernism and tonalism in the late 1940s.
Stokes’ work was a strong influence and she exhibited with the artists for whom Drysdale Drysman was a member of the Contemporary Artists group. Other members of the group included Russell Russell, who was appointed to teach the art of modernism after World War II. In addition to her education at the Royal Academy, she studied under the French cubist painter and sculptor André Lhote in Paris in 1932. The following year she returned to Australia, where she married businessman Eric Stokes. The family settled in Collins Street, Melbourne, and Stokes had three children between 1937 and 1942. Only two paintings and two sketches from the period are known. The most notable is The Village, influenced by the post-impressionist and portraitist Augustus John. In 1946, Stokes presented the work to the National Art Gallery-Twentiethiethieth century. In 1950, Stoke’s work was hung in the inaugural exhibition of the contemporary Art Society, held at theNational Gallery ofVictoria. In 1930, Stoking was among artists who exhibited at a Melbourne gallery, the Athenaeum. In 1940, Stoked was one of only two to draw praise from prominent member of the Heidelberg School, Arthur Streeton, who described the work as a ‘rare attraction’ that was ‘liquid and luminous’