Jan 14 2014

Coen – Margaret

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Medium: Painting

Margaret Coen is one of the Yass Valley regions most celebrated daughters. The following is an excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald by Jacqueline Kent.

Margaret-Coen_Book_thumb“Born in Yass in 1909, Margaret Coen had both the luck to be talented and the talent to be lucky. From her early youth she knew she wanted to be an artist, and she single mindedly set about achieving her ambition.

At Kincoppal Convent in Elizabeth Bay she studied drawing with the flamboyant Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo, who urged his students to “work, work, work!” while attacking their charcoal drawings with a feather duster. Coen left school for drawing classes four nights a week at the Royal Art Society in Pitt Street, convincing her strict Catholic family that drawing from the nude was not immoral.

During the Depression, work for young artists was very scarce. Coen was forced into a series of dead-end, commercial art jobs, which she mostly loathed: her goal of being an artist seemed unattainable. Her luck and her life changed when a family friend offered to pay her rent on a studio, first in Margaret Street and later in Pitt Street. This was Coen’s great opportunity and she grabbed it, working hard at drawing and painting: soon she began selling her work, mainly still life and paintings of flowers.

Artistic Sydney was a very small world in the 1930s, centred on the Royal Art Society, Julian Ashton’s art school and various sketch clubs around Circular Quay. Coen’s friends and associates included Arthur Murch, George Finey, Rah Fizelle, Grace Crowley and the very elegant Thea Proctor. Coen also knew Ray and Percy Lindsay, and greatly admired the work of their brother Norman. In 1930, she visited him at his home in Springwood, discovering a man who was “tremendously alive … like quicksilver, constantly moving, with an extraordinary lightness about him”.

Norman Lindsay became Margaret Coen’s great friend and artistic mentor for many years. The 1985 edition of this book describes their relationship mostly in straightforward teacher-pupil terms, though certainly leaving scope for the reader to wonder whether there was more to it. Clearly there was. Meg Stewart has added a chapter in her own voice explaining what she had never known while her mother was alive: Margaret Coen and Norman Lindsay had been lovers”.

Review of ‘Autobiography of My Mother’ by Meg Stewart
(Jacqueline Kent, Sydney Morning Herald, June 19, 2007)

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