Beckett depicted views of her local environment including transient subjects such as moving cars, trams, lone figures, waves and shadows, reminding us of the beauty in the everyday. Her misty paintings of modern Melbourne in the 1920s and 1930s captured the outdoors, including sea and beachscapes, and suburban street scenes, that often recorded the shifting effects of light– either in the quiet, early morning or in the stillness of the evening.

Curator’s Insight – Walking home c.1931

The gentle and seemingly insignificant nature of Beckett’s subjects, for instance, Walking home, were misunderstood by the small and narrow-minded Melbourne art world. This everyday scene possibly depicts the artist’s sister Hilda walking ahead of her daughter, Patricia, who was dragging her feet in the shadows on the road near Port Phillip Bay. The human figures are merged with the natural world. The work captures an incidental moment of suburban life and was the opposite of the more commonly revered hard realism found in the elevated themes and heroic landscapes of the interwar period. Rather than depicting a famous location or important moment in history Beckett's work captures an incidental event in suburban life.

By Tracey Lock, Curator of Australian painting and sculpture at AGSA, The Present Moment - the art of Clarice Beckett catalogue, 2021.

Clarice Beckett, Australia, 1887 - 1935, Walking home, c.1931, Melbourne, oil on canvas on board, 49.2 x 59.5 cm; Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

  • Beckett painted her surrounding environment with the majority of scenes depicted were in walking distance from her home. What does the Australian landscape look like where you live?
  • During a lunch time at your school complete an en plein air painting or pastel drawing of students playing and interacting with each other. How will you capture the figures being merged with their environment and the atmosphere or energy of this moment?
  • What is your favourite time of day and why? Create a work of art that captures your favourite time of day and give your work a title that reflects that time of day.
  • Beckett was interested in the profound wonder of experiencing nature. Take a nature walk with your class. Look closely at your surroundings and focus on the small details, such as the colour of the plants and trees or the details in the bark or leaves, or the shadows created on the ground. Draw these observations in your sketchbook.
  • Take a series of photographs of the same scene at 4-6 different times during one particular day. Which time of the day did you prefer? What subtle lighting changes did you notice at different intervals throughout the day? Compare your images with other members of your class.
  • Minimal marks are used in Beckett’s paintings to give an impression of a place. Look at an outside scene. What are the three most dominant elements? Quickly paint or block in these elements with watercolour paint.
  • Create three pastel drawings of your favourite place in nature that when joined together creates a panoramic view. Join these canvases together in a ‘U’ shape so that the viewer can step inside the world you see.
  • Beckett made use of whatever materials were readily accessible and was known to paint on the reverse of found materials like Cornflakes boxes (Sunset) – and paper bags – (Bathing boxes), c.1932 (p. 94). Collect a range of surfaces from the recycling bin and create a series of paintings or pastel drawings using these materials as the surface of your works of art.
  • Whether by choice or necessity, Beckett was not a studio painter. She used a portable painting box and a mobile trolley to paint both colour notes and finished impressions outdoors. She painted in direct natural light, mostly on small board supports, approaching her subjects spontaneously and recording her visual responses with minimal materials. Design your own portable painting box or bag which you could take with you when you paint outdoors. What items will you need? Will you need to carry it or will it be fitted to your bike? Remember, you have to carry it so it must be easy to transport.

Beckett did not travel abroad like some of her peers. Although she was criticised for limiting her subject matter this ended up being a strength of her practice as she became familiar with the place in which she lived and was confident in capturing the spirit of that place.

Over the course of a term, spend time observing a simply routine you regularly perform in your life. Record this routine in some way either by taking a photograph, sketching, making a sound recording or making quick tonal recordings in pastel or watercolour. Create an animation using the recordings, drawings and paintings you collected that captures this routine.

Photo: Saul Steed.

The role of curator

Piecing together the life of one of Australia's finest painters of the twentieth century

Clarice Beckett, Australia, 1887 - 1935, Wet day, Brighton, c.1928, Melbourne, oil on board, 17.4 x 22.2 cm; Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

The mechanics of building a picture

Discover Beckett's compositional techniques

Clarice Beckett, Australia, 1887 - 1935, Beach scene, c.1932, Beaumaris, Victoria, oil on canvas on board, 24.2 x 29.5 cm (sight); Gift of Douglas and Barbara Mullins 2003, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

A modern woman

Learn about Beckett as a pioneering modernist

Clarice Beckett, Australia, 1887 - 1935, Luna Park, 1919, St Kilda, Melbourne, oil on board, 18.0 x 20.0 cm; Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Introducing Clarice Beckett

One of Australia’s most important painters of the interwar period

The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.

Art Gallery of South Australia staff Tracey Lock, Kylie Neagle, Thomas Readett and Dr. Lisa Slade contributed to the development of this resource.