Max Meldrum was a controversial personality in the world of art, and his Tonalist movement made an undeniable impact on Australian Modernism. At the Art Gallery of Ballarat this winter, you can see a selection of noteworthy artworks, some created as far back as the 1920s, produced by two-time Archibald Prize winner Max Meldrum and his ‘Meldrumites’ – the Australian artists from the Tonalist movement.
After developing his distinctive theory of painting, Meldrum opened a school in 1916 where
he taught his philosophy of Tonalism: essentially, where tonal variations are the focus, over
drawing skill and colour. Adapting to this shadow and highlight method of painting,
Meldrum cultivated a group of students who admired his outlook on painting, eventually
forming the Tonalist Movement.
Characterised by its signature muted tones, lack of colour, and ‘misty’ appearance, Tonalism made its way through the art scene during the early to mid-20th century, remaining one of Australia’s most memorable movements to this day.
This group, and subsequently this exhibit, includes famous names including Clarice Beckett
and Colin Colahan who were both inspired by the works of Meldrum and early Tonalism,
along with other ‘Meldrumites’ including Alma Figuerola, Jock Frater, Harry Harrison and
“We hold some fabulous examples of the work of Tonalist artists, including important works
by Clarice Beckett and Max Meldrum, but we also hold works by many of Meldrum’s
students and followers," said Louise Tegart, the director of the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
“We have also used the exhibition as an opportunity to build on this area of our collection,
by acquiring works, including a gorgeous landscape by Meldrum, a spectacular still life by
Harry Harrison and an early Clarice Beckett still life which is quite different in tone from the
two sublime grey seascapes already in our collection.”
The exhibition will feature as part of the annual Ballarat Winter Festival, running from June 25 to July 17. In addition to the exhibit, the gallery is hosting a series of public programs including an In Conversation with Peter Perry OAM, one of Australia’s leading experts on the Tonalism movement, on June 8, and a talk with artist David Moore on the influence of Meldrum, on June 18.