Margaret Preston

Born in Adelaide as Margaret Rose McPherson in 1875, Margaret Preston had by the 1920s become one of Australia’s leading modernist artists.

She had spent the years of World War I living and working in Paris and Britain developing an art based on the decorative or abstract principles of European post-impressionism and the Japanese print tradition of Ukiyo-e.

Moving to Sydney by 1920 (having married William Preston) she expanded her practice to encompass the concept of an appropriately national art, and became one of the country’s most astute public commentators on the wider cultural issues shaping Australia in the era of its new modernity.

Attaching equal importance to craft and painting, she had, by the late 1920s, gained an exceptional place in the Sydney art establishment. In 1929 she became the first woman and modernist to be invited by the Art Gallery of NSW to contribute a self portrait to the collection.

Preston spent much of the 1930s living in bushland at Berowra, some 40 kms north of Sydney, an experience which catalysed a key extension of her art to incorporate landscape painting. Preston’s growing recognition of the intrinsic connection between country and art in Aboriginal culture, both informed her work and prompted her ongoing travel around Australia to study sites of Aboriginal rock painting.

Preston held her last major exhibition in 1953. As in previous decades, the Prestons continued to travel extensively in Australia and abroad. Her final public lecture delivered at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1958, was the last of an extraordinary number of lectures, talks and articles, written and delivered by Preston throughout her career. She died on 28 May 1963.

Popular prints from this artist