Beckett, Clarice Marjoribanks (1887–1935) By Peers, Juliette
Clarice Beckett was a major Australian artist, and remains an important figure in feminist history. Beckett’s abstracted impressionism, subtle color harmonies, and ordered placement of compositional elements is considered quintessential to Australian modernism. In the early 1970s her proto-minimalist approach was likened to that of Mark Rothko. Her refined blurring of hues and para-futurist vision of industrialized cities broke with the predominately agrarian themes of 1920s Australian painting. Having never left Victoria, her artistic vision was highly autonomous and self-reliant; locally available books and art instruction, for instance, provided her with theoretical and technical cross-references. While her own creativity was bounded by domestic routine, her works poetically transformed and transcended her local surroundings.
During the women’s liberation movement and second wave feminism of the 1970s, discussions framing Beckett as a self-driven cultural maverick trapped within a restrictive middle-class family offered guidance and self-identification for many artists associated with each movement. While the narrative of Beckett’s artistic career stimulated substantial curatorial and scholarly interest in her work, the posthumous focus on her social standing and personal life risk undermining the artistic breadth and credibility she achieved during her lifetime.