In 2022 as we celebrate 40 years of the Queensland Art Gallery at South Bank, it is fitting to note that when the new building designed by Robin Gibson opened in 1982, it occurred in the same year as the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vida Lahey1, described as ‘an indefatigable advocate for art in Queensland’.2
While Francis Vida Lahey (1882–1968) is widely known for her oil paintings — her Monday morning 1912 (illustrated) is a highlight of the QAGOMA Collection — and as a watercolourist of distinction, her legacy as a tireless campaigner for a new Queensland Art Gallery and promoter of arts education is of equal importance.
Vida Lahey ‘Monday morning’
Vida Lahey ‘Geraldton wax in vase’
Lahey, and fellow Queensland artist Daphne Mayo (1895–1982), had a long association with the Queensland National Art Gallery (as it was then known). Lahey was a member of its Board of Advice from 1923 until 1930. In 1929, Lahey and Mayo founded the Queensland Art Fund (QAF) and were both members of the QNAG Art Advisory Committee until 1937. During the life of the QAF, 52 works were acquired and presented to the Gallery and the Fund was instrumental in securing the Darnell bequest.2
DELVE DEEPER: The art and life of Vida Lahey
In 1936, with the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Lahey established and administered the Queensland Art Library (QAL). The Carnegie Bequest of over 200 books, 34 large colour reproductions of famous pictures, and 2000 photographs covering painting, sculpture and architecture were supplemented by private donations, including those from Lahey and fellow artists. Lahey was instrumental in the success of the library, and organised lunch-time art lectures, creating an invaluable resource for arts education in Queensland.3
Child Art Scholarship class
Colour theory and design: Tone and colour analysis
Lahey taught art at the Brisbane Girls High School, later known as Somerville House, where she was the part-time art mistress from 1912 until 1916. In 1941, at the invitation of the QNAG Trustees, she pioneered creative art classes for children at the Gallery (illustrated). Influenced by the teaching methods Lahey observed while travelling through Europe, the United States and Canada, she wrote in a report to the Gallery’s Trustees, ‘I try not to instruct them at all but evoke from them their own ideas… children’s work should be as spontaneous as possible and give full opportunity for the sense of freedom and release which is so valuable to them’.4 Lahey’s handwritten teaching notes, ‘Colour Theory and Design. Tone and Colour Analysis’ (illustrated) are held in the QAGOMA Research Library Collection along with photographs of the children enjoying her art classes held at the Gallery.
Throughout her life, Lahey was a strong advocate for a new dedicated home for Queensland’s art collection and, although this dream remained unfulfilled at the time of her death in 1968, we acknowledge her tireless work and advocacy for the Queensland Art Gallery and for arts education in Queensland.
Jacklyn Young is Senior Librarian, QAGOMA
1 Woolcock, Phyllis. ‘Art gallery was her elusive dream’. Courier Mail, Saturday magazine, Saturday 26 June 1982.
2 MacAulay, Bettina. Songs of Colour: The Art of Vida Lahey. Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1989, p.22.
3 MacAulay, p.24-5.
4 Lahey, Vida. Children’s Creative Art Class Report to Queensland National Art Gallery Trustees, 7 November 1948, p.2.
View Vida ‘Lahey’s Colour Theory and design. Tone and Colour analysis’
Handwritten teaching notes by Vida Lahey
QAGOMA Research Library
Join us at the QAGOMA Research Library until 31 October to see a selection of material on Vida Lahey and her creative art classes at the Queensland Art Gallery, including her handwritten teaching notes and slide box c.1930s–40s.
The QAGOMA Research Library is located on Level 3 of GOMA. Open to the public Tuesday to Friday, 10.00am to 5.00pm, visit us in person or explore the online catalogue. Access to special collections is available by appointment. To contact the Library, call (07) 3842 9557.
Vida Lahey’s slide box
Vida Lahey painting from nature
Vida Lahey Memorial Travelling Scholarship
The Vida Lahey Memorial Travelling Scholarship gives a young or emerging Australian artist or young Australian art history student or graduate an extraordinary opportunity to develop their practice or research through an itinerary of international or national travel that will contribute to an understanding of Australian art. The scholarship is offered every two years and QAGOMA is now accepting applications until 7 December 2022.
Featured image: Left: ‘Colour theory and design: Tone and colour analysis’, c.1920–50; Handwritten teaching notes by Vida Lahey; Gift of Helen Creagh and Margaret Shaw; Collection: QAGOMA Research Library / Right: Vida Lahey painting; Daphne Mayo Collection, UQFL119; Photographer unknown; Image courtesy: The University of Queensland, Brisbane