Grace Crowley belongs to the generation of women artists who emerged so brilliantly in the inter-war period, having spent their formative years living overseas and returning to Australia with knowledge of recent developments in art.
Between 1926 and 1930, Grace Crowley studied in Paris with André Lhôte, an early Cubist and a well-known teacher of the time. Crowley became one of Lhôte’s star pupils and absorbed his manner of reducing forms to a basic geometric vocabulary, resulting in a kind of ‘academic cubism’. Returning to Sydney in 1930, Crowley opened an art school with Rah Fizelle where she taught Lhote’s methods, and also became one of the leading proponents of modernism.
Throughout the 1930s Crowley moved further and further towards complete abstraction. In this she was strongly influenced by the theories of the French artist Albert Gleizes, transmitted to her via the letters of her close friend Anne Dangar who was living in France.
Woman (Annunciation) is one of Crowley’s last figurative paintings. Clearly, her primary interest is not in the subject, but in the organisation of coloured planes into a two-dimensional composition. This aim was clearly articulated in Eleonore Lange’s foreword to Exhibition 1 where Woman (Annunciation) was first exhibited: ‘the painter today uses a scene or a posing model only to elaborate its inherent colour-sensations into an artistic theme of colour relations: the endeavour to arrange these special values into an ordered whole is the subject of a modern picture.’1
Exhibition 1, a group show, was intended as the first of a series of exhibitions showcasing the geometric semi-abstraction practised by this group of artists. In fact, no further exhibitions followed and Crowley, together with Ralph Balson, soon abandoned the subject entirely and moved into complete abstraction.
1Eleonore Lange, Exhibition 1, Paintings and Sculptures, David Jones’ Exhibition Galleries, 17 August-2 September 1939
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002