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11 facts about Leon Pole

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By Gwylym Owen

Leon Pole (28 June 1871 – 31 December 1951) was an Australian artiste who was united with the Heidelberg School art movement, also known as Australian Impressionism.

Born in Adelaide, South Australia, Pole moved to Melbourne where, between in 1888 and 1892, he studied under Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School. While yet a student, Pole united Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Tom Roberts and other members of the Heidelberg School at their artists’ camp at Eaglemont, Heidelberg. In 1890, Pole joined Heidelberg School player Walter Withers at Charterisville, where he remained for several years.

Pole’s best-known painting, The Village Laundress (1891), depicts a laundress and her two daughters walking across grassy paddocks in Templestowe in the same way as the sunlit Yarra Valley in the background, and shows the marked put on of Streeton’s lyrical Heidelberg paintings, such as ′Still glides the stream, and shall for ever glide′ (1890). Reviewing The Village Laundress in 1932 for The Australasian, art critic Harold Herbert called it “a utterly charming and interesting picture”, and said it “possesses a mood of faithful painting for the love of it, and a tenderness of colour that is extremely gratifying. No flashness, no blatancy, just a easy sincerity.” He went on to compare its “quiet beauty” to the undertaking of Heidelberg School artist David Davies. The painting sold at auction in 1987 for $210,000, regarded as a tall price for a put on an act by a relatively puzzling Australian artist. It is now in the deposit of the National Gallery of Victoria.

Pole was an venerated muralist, caricaturist and “lightning sketcher”, and, alongside artists such as Max Meldrum and brothers Lionel and Norman Lindsay, formed part of a bohemian group in Melbourne known as the Cannibal Club. Ahead of the 1901 inauguration of the first Parliament of Australia at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building, Pole, in collaboration subsequently three further artists, painted largescale murals of allegorical maidens throughout the venue, which remain to this day.

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