Important Australian + International Fine Art
15 July 2020


(1860 – 1940)

oil on canvas

105.5 x 59.5 cm

signed lower right: ISÖ RAE
bears stencil verso on stretcher: S75T/

$30,000 – 50,000
Sold for $270,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 61 - 15 July 2020, Melbourne

Louise Whitford Gallery, London
Private collection, acquired 19 December 1980
Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury, United Kingdom, 11 December 2019, lot 68 (as ‘Girl in a Meadow Holding a Flower’)
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Iso (Isobel) Rae studied at the National Gallery School in Melbourne between 1878 – 1887 and was part of the wave of young students who travelled to France in the late 1880s to further their artistic education. Paris had replaced London as the preferred destination for Australian art students, described by Rupert Bunny as ‘the one place in the world to study for the man who wants to do really good work. Nowhere else does he get the atmosphere, the sympathy, which is indispensable to the serious student of painting’.1 By the end of 1887, Rae and fellow students, E. Phillips Fox and John Longstaff – who had been awarded the inaugural National Gallery School travelling scholarship – were resident in the City of Light, part of a dynamic expatriate community that continued well into the first decades of the twentieth century.

Writing for The Australasian in 1890, Rae’s sister and travelling companion, Alison, reported: ‘The army of foreign students in Paris is legion. And amongst this great army, gathered together for study, no more earnest workers can be found than our own little group of Australian artists. None can be said to be more united, freer from petty jealousies, more generously helpful towards one another … And whilst it comes as a surprise to other minds that so young a country as ours should show artistic tendencies – we must confess that … from the standpoint of those works that have been exhibited on the walls of the Salons and the Royal Academy, the outlook is, to an astonishing degree, brilliant’.2

Rae first visited Étaples, a fishing village in Brittany on the northern coast of France and site of a popular artists’ colony, in the summer of 1892. The picturesque landscape and creative community attracted visitors from all over the world, but there was a particularly strong concentration of Australian artists who lived and worked there from the 1880s onwards. Iso and Alison Rae were among the longest-serving residents, living there permanently from 1892 – 1932. Becoming a fluent French speaker and entrenched in local life, Iso found a rich vein of subject matter for her art, which is reflected in works as diverse as the pastel drawings she made at the nearby YMCA camp for allied soldiers during the First World War (represented in various public collections including the Australian War Memorial and the National Gallery of Australia), to women at a market in Les acheteuses (The Buyers), 1913 (Deutscher and Hackett, November 2017, lot 16), and this charming painting of a toddler wearing a traditional Breton cap.

The intimacy of the scene reflects an easy familiarity and the inscription by Alison Rae on a closely related watercolour (Deutscher and Hackett, May 2017, lot 82), a small head study of the same child, notes that it was painted at the sisters’ Étaples home on the Rue des Violiers. The artist clearly delights in her subject, presumably the daughter of a local friend, as the child, in turn, delights in the warmth of the sunshine and the surrounding garden, a freshly-plucked flower in hand. Never before seen at auction in Australia, this painting exemplifies what the New Zealand-born artist, Grace Joel, described as Rae’s ability to ‘[paint] outdoor figure subjects with rare charm and poetry, combined with harmonious colour and vigorous effects’.3

1. Bunny, R., quoted in Taylor, E., Australian Impressionists in France, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2013, p. 11
2. Rae, A., quoted in ibid., p. 15
3. Joel, G., quoted in Field, I., Letters from Alison and Iso Rae, Ivory Print, Victoria, 2011, p. 9