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Book - Percy Leason: an artist's life by Margot Tasca

From the Collection of Eltham District Historical Society Inc 728 Main Rd Eltham Victoria

Hardback Book
31cm x 20.5cm
Object Registration
percy leason, margot tasca, biography, artist, landscape
Historical information
"Who would have thought that a boy born in 1889 from the Victorian Mallee would become a successful artist on New York’s Staten Island? This finely illustrated, exhaustively researched and beautifully written biography on Leason features the artist’s entire career as a painter and cartoonist renowned for his depictions of Australian society in the 1920s and 1930s.
Leason’s story is a poignant one tracing his beginnings as a cartoonist, to the bohemian Melbourne art scene in the early 20th century, to his involvement in the artists’ camps of Eltham, to his important series of portraits of Lake Tyers Indigenous Australians, and his eventual move to the US where he has been acknowledged as making an enormous contribution to the New York arts scene.
This story, as yet untold, fills a gap in the history of art in Australia and offers a new perspective on Australian art in the first half of the 20th century." - Thames and Hudson website

Once they had settled back into Melbourne, Perry and Belle began to look for a place to make a permanent home. Having enjoyed the bush setting of Mosman, they decided to explore the rural fringes of Melbourne. Each weekend they packed a picnic and travelled to the towns in the nearby hills - such as Ferntree Gully, Sassafras, Lilydale and, of course, Cockatoo Creek. Eventually deciding these places might be a little too far from The Herald office, they searched closer to the city. The Heidelberg and Box Hill regions that had inspired his old teacher McCubbin, had become busy, urban areas but further east, towards Warrandyte and Templestowe, there were still large tracts of bush. Finally they settled on Eltham, an area Percy knew very well, having often painted there with Jock Frater. Perry's old friend Dick McCann and his wife Margery had also settled in Eltham. The township was fifteen miles from Melbourne and serviced by an electric train that went to the central Melbourne station of Flinders Street, near where The Herald offices were located.

Eltham was a small village in 1925, separated from Melbourne by the Yarra River, and surrounded by orchards and large tracts of bush. Small farms dotted the landscape and the main businesses revolved around ironmongers, blacksmiths, and farming supplies. Of particular appeal to artists was Eltham Park, a large expanse of bushland bounded by the Yarra River on the south side and the Diamond Creek on the east. The park included a playing field that was busy on weekends with cricket or football matches, but for the rest of the week it was mostly empty and an ideal place to paint. The scenery there provided the inspiration for many paintings by Leason, Meldrum and other artists such as Colin Colahan and Peter (A.E.) Newburv.

The Leasons found a rundown old farmhouse on four-and-a-half acres of land in New Street, now known as Lavender Park Road. The site was splendid, at the top of a gentle slope which gave panoramic views east to the Dandenong hills, south over the Templestowe orchards and north to Kinglake. The front lawn was taken over by onion grass (or wiregrass as Leason called it) and scattered about the property were many wattles and gum trees. Aloe cacti covered much to the front of the house, while old quince and lucerne hedges separated the house and out-buildings from a rundown apple orchard. Here they would build a new home. ·with financial assistance from The Herald, Leason bought the property and immediately commissioned an architectural firm to design a new house in the popular bungalow style of the time. The old farm house was demolished but Percy saved the siding boards, bricks and corrugated iron for the outbuildings of his new home. The new house was a two storey, triple brick with a large, gabled, terracotta tiled roof. It was situated at the very top of the slope.
The paint and varnish were barely dry when the family moved in during the summer of 1925-26 and the fumes were overpowering in the heat. Despite the house being wired for electricity, power poles had not yet reached the area and initially the family had to rely on kerosene lamps and candles. When electricity did arrive, Leason reflected on the community's reception of electricity at the expense of the old growth gum tree corridors in his cartoon, Electricity comes to Wiregrass.

The family had now grown to seven. Jack was nearly nine, Jean was seven, Marjory was four, Nancy was two and the baby Patricia was seven months old. Jack and Jean were enrolled in the local primary school down the hill. A retired farmer, Jock McMillan, came to live on the property and help out with the general maintenance. Jock built himself a shack and Belle provided him with meals. He was kept occupied building structures around the property·, such as the garage, the outside toilet, garden beds, trellis arbours and a number of ponds. The elderly, bearded Scotsman with his old hat and baggy pants also provided the inspiration for one of the characters Leason regularly included in his cartoons. Like Leason, Jock smoked a straight stemmed pipe. A neighbour was employed to help Belle with domestic chores, and so the family settled down to live comfortably in their new Eltham house. Two dogs, Maginary and Wodger, completed the large and vibrant household.

“Percy Leason; an artist’s life” by Margot Tasca, Thames & Hudson Australia Pty Ltd, Port Melbourne 2016, pp 63-64
When Made
Made By
Thames and Hudson (Maker)
Last updated
10 Aug 2019 at 5:19PM