The sun is slowly setting and sends a warm glow over the grasses and wildflowers, lighting up the trunks of the white gums. A couple walk side by side through the wildflowers into the valley. There are pink tinges to the sky above the low-lying hills. And we can almost hear the chirp of birds in the great gum trees so typical of Australian landscapes painted in the first decades of the twentieth century.
This is Florence Fuller’s A golden hour c 1905, a painting portraying that magic hour at the end of the day. The place is the Darling Ranges in Western Australia, and the couple are John Winthrop Hackett, businessman, philanthropist and owner of the West Australian newspaper, and his new wife Deborah Vernon Hackett, née Drake-Brockman, who had married Hackett in 1905, aged eighteen, despite family disapproval. The painting may also be seen to represent their ‘golden hour’—Lady Hackett later became Lady Moulden of Adelaide and then, after marrying again, she was known as Dr Buller Murphy of Melbourne.
On 31 October 1905, The Western Australian observed that this painting was undoubtedly the pièce de résistance of Fuller’s recent exhibition. The critic admired the balance of the composition as a whole, and the treatment of the hills and sky but most of all praised ‘the wonderful light effects’, ‘the golden glories of late afternoon’.
Fuller is an important Australian woman artist and arguably Western Australia’s most significant artist from the Federation period. Born in Port Elizabeth in South Africa and moving to Victoria as a child, Fuller studied art at the National Gallery School in Melbourne. In 1889, she was awarded the Victorian Artists’ Society prize for the best portrait by an artist under the age of twenty-five. She subsequently studied with her relative Robert Dowling, who was Melbourne’s most sought-after portraitist of the early to mid 1880s and Australia’s first locally trained artist. (Dowling’s oil portrait Miss Robertson of Colac (Dolly) 1885–86 was purchased in 2010 by donors to the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund.)
When Dowling died, Fuller took over Dowling’s portrait of Lady Loch, the Governor’s wife, who became a patron. Fuller furthered her studies at the Académie Julian in Paris and exhibited in the Paris Salon, Royal Academy and Royal Institute of Oil Painters. In 1904, she moved to Perth to join her sister the singer Amy Fuller and remained there for four productive years. It was at that time she painted A golden hour, as well as an insightful portrait of Deborah Vernon Hackett. She was an active member of the Perth Theosophical Society and, upon leaving Western Australia, visited the Theosophists headquarters in Calcutta. After a period in England, she returned to Australia, living in Mosman in New South Wales until her death in 1946.
Anne Gray Head of Australian Art
in artonview, issue 73, Autumn 2013