Dorrit Black

Dorothea Foster Black (1891-1951), artist, was born on 23 December 1891 at Burnside, South Australia, oldest of four children of Jessie Howard (born Clark) and Alfred Black, engineer and architectural draftsman. She studied at the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts when H. P. Gill was principal; she produced a number of conservative, impressionist landscapes in watercolours. At age nineteen she accompanied her parents on an overseas trip, visiting many galleries, and on her return resumed her studies at the School of Arts and Crafts.

In 1915 Black moved to Sydney against her father's wishes to study at Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School. Her style soon reflected Ashton's and to a lesser extent Elioth Gruner's; she adopted oil as her medium and for the next ten years painted mainly landscapes in an impressionist style. A substantial group of her paintings were included in the Eleven Australian Women exhibition in 1921. She supplemented her income by doing leather work and teaching, her main income being an allowance from her father and, after his death in 1933, funds from his estate.

By the mid 1920s Black's subject matter had broadened to include a number of interiors; her style became more simplistic and tonal. She was in Europe from 1927-29, studying at the Grosvenor Art School, London, and Andre Lhte's Academy, Paris (one of the most famous modernist art schools of the time), and his summer school at Mirmande. From Lhte she learned modernist elements of geometric composition and colour ba-lancing, from Albert Gleizes the cubistic overlapping forms. Black held her first one-person exhibition in 1930 at the Macquarie Galleries, Sydney. She established the short-lived Modern Art Centre which aimed to promote, teach and exhibit modernism. During the 1930s she produced many linocuts which explored numerous different artistic directions; her oil paintings followed a more singular line of development, in particular an interest in colour and light. She travelled again to England (1934-35) and also visited France and the United States.

In 1938 Black returned to Adelaide, where she supplemented her income with part-time teaching and the occasional sale of a work. From 1935-40 she produced some of her finest watercolours. In 1939 she built a studio and home at Magill and thereafter worked mainly in oils; landscapes remained her main subject. She was an associate and served on the council of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, and was foundation vice-chairman of the South Australian branch of the Contemporary Arts Society. In 1944 she founded Group 9, whose members exhibited modernist works. Her later works include some of the best and some of the worst paintings she produced. She died in Adelaide as a result of a road accident on 13 September 1951.

Jane Hylton Ian North 'Dorritt Black' 1975.