The Society has a long and proud history as the oldest surviving women’s art group in Australia.
The Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors (MSWPS) began in 1902 as a monthly gathering of eight former students of Frederick McCubbin from the National Gallery School which members called the Students' Art Club. It is known that among these founders were Daisy Stone, Tina Gowdie, Annie Gates, Kate Allan, Ella Thorn, Henrietta Maria Gulliver and a Miss Stock (otherwise unidentified, who died in 1906). In 1905 they added the indigenous word "Woomballano" (meaning either 'everlasting beauty' or 'search for beauty') to identify their Art Club, changing its title to The Women's Art Club in 1913 then to the Melbourne Society of Women Painters in 1930. The present designation was adopted in 1954.
Many of its early members were plein air painters and identified with the Heidelberg School, which was regarded widely as a male group but which involved many women. The interest in the decorative arts at the opening of the twentieth century attracted other members who were significant craftspeople. By the 1920s, the Society was assimilating the generation of professional women artists emerging from the Melbourne National Gallery School, with significant women artists, representatives of both the Meldrum tonal school and modernism, being invited to join. MSWPS has met at heritage-listed Ola Cohn House 41-43 Gipps Street, East Melbourne since the sculptor's death in 1964. She was President of the Society 1948–1964.
- Peers, Juliette; Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors (1993), More than just gumtrees : a personal, social and artistic history of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors in association with Dawn Revival Press, ISBN978-0-646-16033-7 Peers' 300 page book is the authority on the Society, funded by the Australia Council by an academic researcher working directly from its well-kept archives, interviews with most living members and other records.
- · Peers, Juliette; Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors (1993), More than just gumtrees : a personal, social and artistic history of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors in association with Dawn Revival Press, ISBN 978-0-646-16033-7
“More Than Just Gumtrees” tells the story of the MSWPS and its members’ achievements. Issues of the workplace, family and art commitments, economic survival of artists, migrant artists and prejudice against women are also explored.
Much of the information in “More Than Just Gumtrees” has not been available in previous publications, hitherto unpublished sources include oral history interviews, minute books, reviews, letters, early photographs.
An intimate picture of women’s art in Melbourne from the plein air and craft movements at the turn of the century, through tonalism, modernism, the second world war and 1950s domesticity to realist, traditional and contemporary artists of the present day.
Biographies of over 300 artists, with individual exhibition lists, representation in public collections and further sources form a valuable reference for both general and specialist readers and researchers, dealers and libraries.
A limited number of Hard Cover copies of “More Than Just Gumtrees” by Juliette Peers are available for sale through MSWPS. Please notify of your interest through the Contact Page.