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Stars in the river

the prints of Jessie Traill

Dates + times

16 February 2013 – 23 June 2013
Open 10.00 am – 5.00 pm every day




Recorded information +61 2 6240 6501
General information +61 2 6240 6411
For visitors with mobility difficulties +61 2 6240 6411
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Gallery of works

This exhibition celebrates the artistic career of one of Australia’s most important printmakers of the twentieth century, Jessie Traill.

Embracing the medium of etching in the early 1900s, Jessie Traill forged a radical path for printmaking in Australia through the duality of her vision. Depicting the beauty of the natural environment alongside dynamic images of industry, her lyrical response showed a profound understanding of the dilemma which requires nature to be sacrificed in order for the modern world to progress.

From early views of Victoria rural scenes and Melbourne as the ‘Paris of the South’ through to her major series documenting the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the prints of Jessie Traill combine her poetic sensitivity with an unerring eye for line and form.

Traill’s prints are recognised as vital to the evolution of post-war Modernism, with her unique visual expression finding an ideal medium in the etching plate. After studying with John Mather in Melbourne, Traill travelled to London to study with Frank Brangwyn, which led to a shift towards large, bold and dramatic compositions. An early conservationist, her works depicting the natural landscape touch a contemporary chord.


Equally at home etching iron girders or towering eucalypts, Jessie Traill is considered one of Australia’s most remarkable printmakers.

Observant and adventurous, Jessie Traill was among a core group of woman whose financial independence allowed them to concentrate on their art during the early twentieth century. She studied painting and drawing at the National Gallery School in Melbourne and took lessons in etching from prominent Melbourne printmaker John Mather. Intrigued by the medium, she later moved to England to study with key printmaker Frank Brangwyn, who brought a bold and experimental quality to her printmaking. Returning to Australia, Traill was one of the earliest artists to produce colour etchings.

Jessie Traill Evening Mallacoota, West 1924, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1983

An incessant traveller, Traill crossed the equator at least 15 times during her lifetime, including three and a half years serving as a VAD nurse based in Rouen, France, during the First World War. From 1927 to 1932 she made regular trips north to draw the Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction, also venturing to remote regions including the irrigated soldier settlement at Red Cliffs near Mildura and the Hermannsburg Mission in Central Australia. She loved to drive in her Morris Oxford and Brisbane and Launceston, where she had family, were favourite destinations. However, many of her most remarkable works took inspiration from the bushland surrounding her rural property at Harkaway, near Berwick.

Now considered a key figure in early twentieth-century Australian printmaking, Jessie Traill was under-represented in collecting institutions until the late 1970s. The National Gallery of Australia first acquired prints by the artist in 1976 and is privileged to present this exhibition, which establishes Jessie Traill as a key figure in the history of Australian printmaking and includes over 100 of her etchings, drawn from the NGA’s outstanding collection.

Jessie Traill c.1920, photograph, State Library of Victoria, gift of the artist, 1966