Friday, 3 April 2015

Easter in Australia & a celebration of Ida

A very wet Easter weekend here. It hasn't stopped raining for 2 days now... and its rather brisk as well. So any ideas I had of photographing dollies in the garden has soon gone to the wayside. Its Australian folklore that Easter is always rainy and cold. To be honest I do have memories of sunny Easters, but the years when it is cold and wet, we always exclaim a recurrent "see it always rains on Easter... hmmph". Now I'm not saying that our Australian expectation of wet weather actually leads to a communal prayer for rain.... like a subliminal rain dance, but enough to say that there is no real shock to see the storm clouds close in on the Thursday before Good Friday.

So I have spent the weekend curled up inside with the family, indulging in hot cross buns and lovely hot cups of  tea. And admittedly also losing myself in the internet.... they don't call it the web for nothing, what seems like a few minutes is in actuality hours, but I am quite sure we can all relate to that problem.

It was while I was adhered to the web I found myself searching for vintage Easter illustrations, and it was while I was searching through these wonderful images I stumbled on this very rare Australian Easter picture. And such a rare sight it was. Staring upon it all manner of thoughts crossed my mind. You see while most of the world celebrates Easter simultaneously with the beginning of spring, here in Australia however the Easter long weekend represents the first real sign of cool weather and Autumn. Most of my memories of Easter are about flannelette  pyjamas, warm slippers, hot cross buns, the odd chocolate egg (of course) and the first sign of Autumn leaves, oh and as stated previously...... rain.

So as I peered into this magical painting it reminded me of how sacred images of our own unique folklore are. And while the shops do seem be awash in a sea of pink, yellow and green at the moment, what a refreshing sight it is to see a truly Australian representation of Easter; misty mountains, cosy onesies , fallen leaves and mushrooms.

So who created this inspirational illustration I wondered, well it was indeed Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. And while we all know of the works of May Gibbs and her Gumnut babies or Peg Maltby's fairies, would it surprise you to know that Ida and her family were in fact the first to write magical Australian fairy stories, some 10 years before Gibbs and Maltby. In fact many believe Ida single-handedly inspired the Melbourne school of fantasy illustrators. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite led the way inspiring many to follow her lead to captivate children and to peer into the Australian bushland with wonder and awe.

Up until Ida's illustrations, children's fairy tales originated in the Northern Hemisphere, which held little connection for Australian children to the reality of where they lived.

So I thought I would share with you all, a little about this Australian artist and her magical vision of make believe and wonder.


Ida aged approx. 18 years

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite was born in 1888 in Melbourne, Australia. The youngest daughter to Rev. John Rentoul and Annie Rattray. Her father a professor of New Testament literature at Melbourne University and her mother having extensive interests in art, music and literature.  Both parents encouraged Ida's artistic pursuits and preferred that she develop her own style as opposed to attending formal art lessons. Many family holidays were spent in the Macedon Ranges and the Victorian Coast where make believe, witchery and mysticism within the Australian landscape was imbued within the Rentoul children. Ida began drawing from a young age, she collaborated with her sister Anne and other members of her family to create truly uniquely Australian fairy stories. Ida's first fantasy illustration was published by New Idea magazine when she was just 15.

An early rare photograph of Ida and her siblings, John (far left), Ida (next left), Anne (centre) and friends, 1891, Melbourne University

Anne Rattray Rentoul, Ida's sister and the author of many of the books that Ida illustrated

In 1906 Mollie's Bunyip was published. Written by her sister Anne and illustrated by Ida, this now very rare book, tells of how Mollie wanders into the bush and becomes lost. She is protected by the fairies and a magical Bunyip until she finds her way home again.  The book comprised of simple ink drawings and is truly a remarkable effort from two young girls.

The sequel to this book, Mollie's Staircase was in fact written by Ida's mother and shows how collaborative Ida was with her family. In fact a large majority of her illustrative work was a collaboration with her family.

These early stories and illustrations were the first of their kind in Australia. Up until their creation fairy tales were still very much of European origin. Remembering that the colony of Australia was only just a little over 100 years old, it had taken many decades for even traditional artists to come to terms with the exotic landscape and fauna and to not see through "European eyes". Now through the imagination of Ida and her family, Australia began to identify with a new fairy tale world deep within the Australian bush and the beginning of Australian fairy folklore was born.

In 1909 Ida married businessman Grenbry Outhwaite. Her husband encouraged her career and art, becoming closely involved in the management and marketing of her work. In fact he even collaborated with her to write several stories including The Enchanted Forest (1921), The Little Fairy Sister (1923) and Fairyland (1926).

Ida & Grenbry's wedding 1909

The bulk of Ida's work was created during her 29 year marriage, including many exhibitions, in Melbourne, London and Paris. Ida's books and illustrations became world famous, her work being produced on all manner of merchandise; jig saw puzzles, postcards, even candle and soap boxes.  Her stories of kookaburras, koala bears, cicadas and fairies also became mandatory reading within Australian schools.

What serves as huge inspiration to me is that Ida juggled the tribulations and responsibilities of home and family with her art career. In a time when few women even had a career, she successfully managed both career and motherhood and produced work that has often been compared to the same calibre as Rackman & Dulac.

Ida (standing rear), her mother Anne (seated) with Ida's children Anne, Wendy & Robert circa 1917

Ida circa 1926

In 1916 'Elves & Fairies' was published, no other Australian equivalent had ever been produced before this point.  Multiple exhibitions stemmed from these illustrations, her watercolours and ink drawings receiving international acclaim. In 1926 her equally respected 'Fairyland' was also published.

After WW2, Ida's popularity diminished slightly. She often spoke that the war "stopped the taste for fairies". Perhaps alluding to a nations innocence being lost. In 1938 Ida's husband passed away and she went to live with her sister in a flat in the outskirts of Melbourne. Ida continued to work until her death in 1960. By the end of her long life she had produced a massive amount of work. There is no doubt she was a true pioneer and changed the way we as Australians saw our land. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite inspired our nation and the world to look beyond the wildflowers and eucalypts and see magic and fairies.

So as we celebrate Easter around the world, in my little corner at least, I'm feeling the first brisk bites of cold and listening to the rain persistently falling on my roof. In the distance I can hear the creek behind my home cascading with water and I envision the Easter bunny later tonight making his way over that creek; using the little twig bridge that was constructed by the local fairy folk, through my back garden gate he'll wander, down the fairy path that meanders through my garden, under the salvias that are heavily laden with Autumn blooms and stooping low because of the rain, and finally into my little home. This magical bunny is wearing Autumn attire, rugged up in his warm woollen waist coat, holding a basket of chocolate in one hand and an umbrella in the other.

I dream of fairies and make believe in the Australian bush because of the undeniable brilliance of Ida.... she was after all, the first to see them.

Happy Easter everyone!

Mel xxxx


Rozzie said...

Lovely sentiments Mel, and a very interesting history into the early fairytale writings of Australia.

On a side note, Hubby and I were married on Easter Saturday 11 years ago, and it was a beautiful sunny day and about 24*C.....truly blessed xxxx

Melissa Frank said...

Ahh happy anniversary to you both. Dave and I were married in Autumn... simply the most magical time of the year...It poured the week before our wedding weekend though, and I completely panicked that it would on our day. But there wasn't a cloud in the sky... :) xxxxx