Jim Alexander was one of Australia’s largest gallery supporters of female artists. He exhibited works by some of Australia’s most accomplished female artists and was responsible for reintroducing many of them back into the market. In 1977, Jim opened the ‘Important Women Artists’ gallery in Malvern, which traded to 1979. After a short break and a name change, Jim continued to feature predominantly women artists as ‘Jim Alexander Gallery’ from 1982 to 1990. Jim Alexander’s influence on the trajectory of many of Australia’s important women artists is profound, and yet, much like the female artists he ‘unearthed’, he himself has been forgotten or under-recognised. If it hadn’t been for Jim, these artists may not have been collected to be seen at auction now. The Estate of Jim Alexander features artworks by Dorrit Black (Lot 29 ), Florence Shirlow (Lot 27 ), Heliodore (Dore) Hawthorne (Lot 25 ), Frances Payne (Lot 34 ), Jessie Traill (Lot 38 ) and Sybil Craig (Lot 36 ), among others.
One of the most significant works in Leonard Joel’s forthcoming auction is Florence Fuller’s The Dolls’ Tea Party 1890 (Lot 11 ). Florence Fuller is today considered to be one of Australia’s most important female artists despite for most of her career being somewhat overlooked. Hilda, the sitter of this portrait, was only about 5 years old at the time, and she too became a woman of great accomplishments being one of the first generation of university-educated women to make a career of teaching. This painting is recorded within a photograph of Florence sitting in her Pine Grove studio, published in the ‘Illustrated Sydney News’ on 1 August 1981. The painting has been in Hilda’s family since leaving the artist’s studio in the late 19th century.
Another special discovery within the auction is Sarah Riley’s embroidery (Saint Frideswyde) (Lot 13 ). Information on the artist is scarce, however it was exhibited in the first ‘Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work’ in 1907. This exhibition was organised by the Governor-General’s wife, Lady Alice Northcote, who formed representative committees in each state, bringing together the best examples to be showcased in Melbourne. The exhibition was divided into sections, including fine art, photography, needlework amongst others. Sarah Riley from Victoria was included within this exhibit as entry number 433, with her depiction of Saint Frideswyde on an embroidered painted panel, and entry 434 with an embroidered tablecloth. Little is known of Sarah beyond this exhibition, although she was one of the few needlework entrants chosen to exhibit more than one example.