Jessie Traill was arguably the finest etcher working in Australia during the first half of the 20th century. A student of the Scottish artist John Mather, who had settled in Melbourne in 1878, she later travelled to England where she worked with the painter–etcher Frank Brangwyn, from whom she learned to work boldly and on a large scale.
In the 1920s and 1930s, at a time when women producing prints in Australia were expected to practise such ‘friendly little crafts’* as the woodcut and linocut, Traill created large and technically demanding etchings, often with added aquatint to give tonal richness.
Good night in the gully where the white gums grow, produced in Melbourne in 1922, is one of her most beautiful prints. Large in scale and subtle in texture, the print, with its depiction of thin sinuous tree trunks and silhouettes against a distant sky, is turn of the century, Art Nouveau in style. However, the composition, with the young gum trees beginning and ending outside the picture frame, is a daring innovation and foreshadows Fred Williams’s classic vision of the Australian bush.
Traill spanned the generations. She was a friend of Tom Roberts and later took over his Melbourne studio, but was also a friend of a younger generation. It was Traill who taught Arthur Boyd the rudiments of etching.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002