Theme: Life and People
On display: QAG, Gallery 5
About the artwork
Monday morning 1912 launched Vida Lahey’s career when it was exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Queensland Art Society, Brisbane, in 1912. The painting shows two women doing the weekly wash with copper tubs and bar soap in vivid colour and detail. Esme, a younger sister of the artist, was the model for the woman at the washtub. She is shown with Flora Campbell, a family friend, doing the washing at the Lahey family home, Greylands, in Indooroopilly, Brisbane. Monday morning follows the National Gallery School tradition of the large narrative painting, and shows the influence of McCubbin’s tutoring and his interest in Australian Impressionism through its focus on atmospheric effects. Students were encouraged to produce a large narrative painting to compete for the triennial travelling art scholarship. This painting demonstrated outstanding work by a young artist, and remains Lahey’s only surviving large-scale work of the period.
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About the artist
Vida Lahey was born at Pimpama, near the Gold Coast. Her first known paintings date from 1902. She studied at the National Gallery School in Melbourne under Frederick McCubbin and Bernard Hall, and privately with Walter Withers, and also in Europe, but always returned to Brisbane where she lived and painted for most of her life. She was among a new breed of artist; the trained professional who superseded the Victorian tradition of the genteel lady amateur. During her career, she exhibited more than 2000 paintings in about 200 exhibitions, many of them interstate and overseas. Lahey advocated creative development as the first priority in art education and was a pioneer of art education for children. Thousands of Queenslanders owe their artistic education to this dynamic woman — from her time teaching at the then Brisbane Girl’s High School, now Somerville House, through to her private tuition and classes at the Queensland Art Gallery, and as a public lecturer and broadcaster.
Vida Lahey’s painting portrays ideas of femininity and feminism in a bygone era. It was a rare subject in Australian art at this time, as women’s lives were generally depicted in a more genteel fashion and the acknowledgment of such hard labour was avoided. In depicting the weekly washday at Lahey’s home, Monday morning records the practical conditions inherent in the contemporary life of most Queensland women. It is an example of genre painting, in that it tells a story — in this case, to show the value of domestic work. Lahey later recalled that she had painted the work with the canvas strapped to the mangle, a machine used for pressing water out of laundry by feeding it between two heavy, smooth, round rollers.
- What does this painting tell us about the roles of women in Brisbane in the early 1900s? What does the title of the painting tell you?
- What do you think the women would have seen outside their laundry window?
- This painting depicts Vida Lahey’s sister and friend.Why wouldn’t it be classified as a portrait?
For the Classroom
- Using the laundry window as a frame, draw the scene you think would have taken place outside. (Suggestion: half the class to draw the scene set in 1912 and half to draw a present day scene.)
- Monday morning fits the definition of a ‘genre’ painting. Describe the scene depicted in Monday morning. Now, shift the scene to its equivalent, in the present era. What might this scene depict today? Using models, costumes, props, lighting and staging methods, take a contemporary ‘genre’ style portrait photograph titled Monday morning – after Lahey.