Violet TEAGUE, The boy with the palette Enlarge 1 /1

Violet TEAGUE

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1872 – Frankston, Victoria, Australia 1951

  • Europe 1889-95, 1935-37

The boy with the palette 1911 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Primary Insc: signed lower right in oil "Violet Teague", not dated
Dimensions: 175.5 h x 108.5 w cm framed (overall) 1845 h x 1175 w x 65 d mm
Acknowledgement: Gift of U. S. Teague 1976
Accession No: NGA 76.103
Image rights: © Violet Teague Archive, courtesy Felicity Druce

Violet Teague’s childhood memories of paintings by Velázquez and Raphael in Spanish galleries inspired her to become an artist. With the financial support of her family, Teague studied in Brussels and Britain in the 1890s, returning to Melbourne in 1895 where she painted society portraits.

The boy with the palette portrays Theo Scharf, the son of family friends, and a child prodigy who often painted with Teague. This highly regarded portrait was exhibited in Sydney and Adelaide in 1913, won a silver medal at the New Paris Salon in 1920, and was exhibited at London’s Royal Academy in 1921.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2013
From: Miriam kelly, Capital & Country: The Federation Years 1900 – 1913, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2013

‘The boy artist works with the same facility in oil, water, black and white, and the etching needle, the latter, if anything, showing his artistic powers at their best’.[1] So Theo Scharf (1899–1907), the child prodigy, was described in 1914. He was the son of a prominent Melbourne family, and often painted with Violet Teague. In 1914, he migrated to Munich to further his training, where he became a painter, printmaker and illustrator. In the early 1920s, he produced his best-remembered work, Night in a city, a portfolio of twenty etchings—a satirical account of a typical European city between early evening to dawn, revealing the dark underside of society.

In The boy with the palette, Teague portrayed the artist as a twelve-year-old young man. By depicting him with an assertive gaze and studied stance, using a bold composition, she showed him as conscious of his talent and confident of his future.

Teague was one of a group of financially independent middle-class Edwardian women who never married and devoted their lives to art. She began her art studies in Brussels and England and continued them in Melbourne. Her art was a blend of the traditional and the modern. Likewise, her life was a compromise between the somewhat daring existence of a serious female artist and the conservative existence of a dutiful daughter who interrupted her career to look after her ailing father. She was described in 1949, just before her death, as being: ‘a small frail person … quiet of manner, yet with a surprising vitality and a more surprising sense of whimsy’ she was direct ‘in a mannered way and her eyes twinkle humorously’. She could talk on any subject ‘from racehorses to the decline of Western Culture exactly and wittily’.[2]

The boy with the palette is only partly about Scharf and his prodigious talent; it is also a splendid painting of forms and colours, a melody in black, brown and gold. Teague’s inspiration was a trio of artists who were much admired by the Edwardians: Velasquez, Whistler and Manet. She took from them the dramatic composition, with the crisply contoured, sinuous figure of the boy placed against the thinly painted background. To this extent, The boy with the palette is an aesthetic object first and a character study second.

Anne Gray

[1] ‘Clever boy artist: Australian’s untaught work’, The Argus, Melbourne, 3 March 1914, p 10.

[2] M A Lee, ‘Teague, Violet Helen Evangeline (1872–1951)’, Australian dictionary of biography, vol 12, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1990, pp 189–190.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010

Violet Teague’s life was a compromise between the conservative world of a dutiful daughter and the somewhat daring existence of a serious female artist. Likewise, her art was a blend of the traditional and the modern. She began her art studies in Brussels and England and continued them in Melbourne during the 1890s. Like many others, she was inspired by the broad, bravura brush work of John Singer Sargent. In this work, however, her model was Manet and his The piper 1866. She took from Manet the sweeping brushstrokes and dramatic composition, with the crisply contoured, sinuous figure of the boy placed against a large area of thinly painted gold. She depicted the figure realistically, but used modernist flat colours and an underlying asymmetrical abstract design (which could have derived from the Japanese colour prints that were much admired at this time) to make the figure stand out.

The boy with the palette is an aesthetic object first and a character study second. Her model was Theo Scharf, the 12-year-old son of a prominent Melbourne family, who was considered to be a child prodigy and often painted with Teague. In 1914, he travelled to Munich to further his training and, after the war, obtained a teaching position at the Munich Academy. In this portrait Teague portrayed the artist as a young man, conscious of his talent and confident of his future. She did so through the bold composition and energetic paint surface as well as through his assertive gaze and studied stance. But this work is not so much about Scharf and his prodigious talent, or even about an artistic friendship, as it is a painting of forms and colours, a melody in black-brown and gold.

Anne Gray


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