It’s a Great Illustration – But No Cigar!

Above: Inside of cigar box illustrated by Eirene Mort containing wood working tools belonging to Nora Weston ca. 1920.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Eirene Mort’s death at the age of 98, a fitting time to consider her life and work. Thanks to a generous gift from her heirs Canberra Museum and Gallery is well endowed with artefacts from Mort’s art practice. From 30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018, they are presenting her art in Eirene Mort: A Livelihood.

Australian artist, Eirene Mort was born on 17 November 1879 at Woollahra, Sydney. She attended St Catherine’s Clergy Daughters’ School, Waverley and studied painting with Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo and Albert H. Fullwood. In 1897 she travelled alone to London where she completed courses at the Grosvenor Life School, the Royal School of Art Needlework and the Royal College of Art, South Kensington, gaining an art-teacher’s certificate.

Returning to Sydney in 1906, Eirene Mort set up a studio with her lifelong friend Nora Kate Weston. Mort was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris and later studied medieval art, illustration and illumination, and etching with Luke Taylor. On her return she made many etchings using historical and rural subjects.

  • Her studio became one of Sydney’s earliest centres for professional design and applied art, and she was a founder of the Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales becoming Vice-President until 1935.
  • She helped to organize and publicize the Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work in 1907.

By 1921, Eirene Mort was a founder  and council-member of the Australian Painter-Etchers’ Society, honorary treasurer of the Australian Ex Libris Society and a member of the Australian Bookplate Club. She was also a founder of the Australian Guild of Handicrafts.

  • She lived at Greenhayes, Mittagong, from 1937 and continued to teach until she moved to Bowral in 1960. Unmarried, Eirene Mort found time in her busy life to maintain contact with her large extended family, becoming its focal point and historian until she died at Bowral on 1 December 1977; where she was later cremated.

Copy of exhibition brochure for Eirene Mort: Livelihood is available from Canberra Museum and Gallery.

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