Australian artist Reginald Ward Sturgess was born on 18 June 1892, in the Melbourne suburb of Newport. Sturgess was the youngest child, and the only one born in Australia after the family migrated from Bath in England. Sturgess was educated at Williamstown South State School, before leaving school at the age of 12. In 1905, he enrolled in the art school at the National Gallery of Victoria, with the help of novelist and Williamstown local Ada Cambridge, who had noticed his artistic talents. There, Sturgess studied drawing under Frederick McCubbin in the School of Design, and from 1909, painting under Lindsay Hall. Sturgess won several prizes while at the Gallery, including First Prize for a drawing of a head from life in 1909; Second Prize for a painting of still life in 1910, and First Prize for landscape painting in 1911.
Sturgess spent much time at student camps at Mount Macedon and Malmsbury, in country Victoria, an area he would later visit frequently to paint. The female students would usually stay with the family of Meta Townsend, a Malmsbury local who was also a student at the Gallery from 1909 to 1914, while the male students would camp at the disused Coliban Flour Mill, the oldest mill in the district.
Sturgess supported his art by selling painted decorative lampshades and working in his father’s seed business in Williamstown, which he continued to manage following his father’s death in 1916. On 30 July 1917, Sturgess married Meta Townsend at the Anglican Church in Malmsbury. They had one daughter Elizabeth (“Beth”), born in 1919.
- Sturgess joined the Victorian Artists’ Society in 1921. Nine of his paintings were included in the Society’s May exhibition, and another six in the September exhibition, with little buyer interest, despite offering them at relatively low prices.
- However, he had more success from a joint exhibition with Granville Dunstan at the Athenaeum, Melbourne, in July 1922 and subsequent solo exhibitions in 1923 and 1924, also at the Athenaeum, where collectors and critics were impressed with his poetic approach, and his convincing depiction of atmospheric effects.
Sturgess was injured in a car accident in 1926, breaking his jaw, and although he recovered, his health was affected. He closed the seed business in 1926 to concentrate entirely on his painting, but by 1930 his fading eyesight forced him to retire. Sturgess eventually became ill and died at the age of 40, on 2 July, 1932 at his Williamstown home. Sturgess was buried in the Williamstown Cemetery, survived by Meta and Beth.
[Both images are from the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum collection:
- Among the Marigolds (1923) watercolour 22.5cm x 29cm depicts the artist’s daughter “Beth” (later Beth Sinclair – first director of the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum;
- The Schooner (1930) watercolour 32cm x 40cm (Gift of Beth Sinclair)]
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