Museum of Brisbane Showcasing Somerville Artistic Talents

Museum of Brisbane's exhibition "New Woman" will be open from the 13th September, 2019 and is not to be missed!  The exhibition recognizes the lives and legacies of some of Queensland's most significant and ground breaking female artists over the past 100 years.  Inspiring Somerville Women; Margaret Olley, Margaret Cilento, Betty Churcher (Cameron), Caroline Barker, Olive Ashworth, Enid Dickson and Judy Watson are all featured.  It is a true testament to the talent pool of both teachers and students over decades at Somerville House.

Caroline Barker taught at Somerville House from 1934 - 1946.  She was admired amongst her peers for her open minded acceptance of all styles of artistic expression. She exshibited portraits and still lifes with RQAS in 1927 - 1987 serving on the committee almost continuously and was appointed MBE in 1979 and named Zonta Club of Brisbane's Woman of Achievement inn 1986.   Both Margaret Cilento and Margaret Olley were students of Barker during their time at Somerville House along with Betty Churcher (Cameron). 

Margaret Olley, named a "National Treasure" in 1997, was known for her trailblazing ways.  She was a boarder at Somerville House from 1937 - 1940 where her artistic talent was nurtured by teacher Caroline Barker. Olley's work went on to be the subject of more than 90 solo shows.  Apart from her extraordinary artistic talent Olley was as an ambassador who gifted millions of dollars of art to institutions around the country including the Queensland Gallery of Art.

Margaret Cilento also studied under Caroline Barker both while a student at Somerville House and privately on weekends.  Cilento also went on to share a flat and studio with Olley. Cilento won a "Village Voice" art competition as well as a French Government scholarship to study engraving at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and is considered the only Australian artist at the time to be directly influenced by the New York School. Cilento exhibited abstract paintngs in solo exhibitions at Brisbane's Moreton Galleries and Sydney's Macquarie Galleries.

Betty Churcher (Cameron) attended Somerville House as a student in the 1930's. Churcher's biography illustrates a story where her father had initially wanted her to complete her schooling at the age of 15, when the headmistress of Somerville House Frances Craig, recognising her talents, intervened to convince her father to allow Churcher to stay at Somerville by waiving the school fees if she taught art in the Junior School.  This allowed Churcher to complete her senior year and is a great example of the history of valuing a holistic education shown by Somerville House principals.  During the 1980's Churcher was appointed the first female Dean of the School of Art and Design at Melbourne's progressive Phillip Institute of Technology (RMIT University) and went on to become the Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia and then the first (and only to date) female Director of the National Gallery of Australia. What an incredible role model of what can be achived as a female leader. 

Olive Ashworth is a successful commercial artist, textile designer and photographer.  She was taught by End Dickson (both an Artist and Print Maker) during her time as a student at Somerville House in the 1920's. She set up her own Art Business "Olve Ashworth Publicity Services" in 1945 which ran successfully for more than 20 years.  QAGOMA identifies Olive as the only Queenslander to contribute significantly to textiles in the 1950's (  Her textile designs were based on and showcased Queensland's landscapes.    

Judy Watson is an internationally renowned multimedia artist from Waanyi country in North West Queensland.  She was the featured visiting artist at Somerville House in 2018 demonstrating and teaching out students in her artistic methods of screen printing, projecting, mono-printing, and layering as well as her historical , biological and political influences.  For a full review on her time at somerville house (

The above stories all share the common link of being nurtured through the teacher/student relationship at Somerville House over many generations.  There is also a common thread of these women who can be considered trailblazers and fantastic role models of female leadership often in times when it was a challenge to thrive as a female leader.  It is thrilling to vist our history and note the continued trend in our current generation of Somerville House students and teachers where the school continues to seek excellence in teaching opportunities for our girls in art to support a future generation of upcoming artistic talent. We highly recommend a trip to this fabulous showcase of Queensland Women's artistic talent featuring a number of our own Somerville House women.

For details of the exhibition see

 "New Woman"

Brisbane Museum of Art

13th September 2019 - 15th March, 2020 

10am - 5pm daily 

10am - 7pm Fridays

Other news