Thea Proctor

Alethea Mary Proctor (2 October 1879 – 29 July 1966) was an Australian painter, print maker, designer and teacher who upheld the ideas of 'taste' and 'style'.[1]

Thea Proctor
George W Lambert - Miss Thea Proctor - Google Art Project.jpg
Portrait of Proctor, painted by George Washington Lambert, 1903, Art Gallery of New South Wales
Alethea Mary Proctor

(1879-10-02)2 October 1879
Died29 July 1966(1966-07-29) (aged 86)
Potts Point, New South Wales, Australia
Known forPainting


Proctor was born in Armidale, New South Wales, to William Consett Proctor who was a solicitor and a politician and Kathleen Jane Louisa Proctor (née Roberts). When her parents separated in 1892, she and her mother moved to Bowral to stay with her grandmother who encouraged her interest in painting.[2]

Proctor studied at the Sydney Art School from 1896 under Julian Ashton, then at the St John's Wood School of Art in London in 1903. Ashton and Lambert became lifelong friends and she modelled for him many times.[3] Apart from two years spent in Sydney between 1912 and 1914 she worked in London 1903 from to 1921, associating with fellow Australian expatriates Charles Conder, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts. She produced pencil drawings, decorative watercolours and fans influenced by Conder and Japanese woodblock prints.[4] She exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts and the New English Art Club, later producing lithographs which were exhibited at the Senefelder Club and at the London Goupil Gallery for the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers.[2] Proctor was also inspired by a performance of the Ballets Russes which she saw in 1911. She found it 'beautiful and inspired'. Her decorative work was inspired by Chelsea Arts Club balls with their elaborate costumes and beautiful fabrics.[2]

After returning to Sydney, Proctor exhibited with Margaret Preston in 1925 then with George Lambert and the Contemporary Group[5] who exhibited in Adrian Feint's Grosvenor Gallery in George Street from 1926 to 1928 with Grace Cossington Smith, Marion Hall Best, Elioth Gruner, Margaret Preston, Roland Wakelin and Roy de Maistre.[6] She and Preston were friends who exhibited together in Sydney and Melbourne until a precipitous bout of professional jealousy in 1925.[7]

Proctor was known for her interest in fashion, and designed her own clothing, expressing her individuality.[8] On her return from London in the early 1920s, Proctor was unimpressed with the Australian women's fashion of the day, poor availability of the sort of luxury fabrics she had been used to seeing in London and Paris, and particularly the way Australian women wore what she considered shapeless hats.[9]

By 1922, she had set up a studio in the Grosvenor Building at 219 George Street where she taught classes.[10] She regarded herself as one of the first 'moderns' to exhibit in Australia, regularly attending art openings, always impeccably dressed in lavender or violet.[11]

Proctor taught Adrian Feint the techniques of woodblock-engraving 1926–28, and they both produced covers for the Ure Smith magazine The Home. Later she taught linocut printing at Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School and drawing at the Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales.[2]

Late in life she promoted the neglected work of her cousin John Russell.[12] Proctor remained unmarried but was briefly engaged to Sidney Long in 1898, whom she had met and studied with in London.[1] Proctor was always exquisitely groomed and considered beautiful. She was still creating and exhibiting drawings of sure and subtle draughtsmanship until late in life, with her work showing at the Macquarie Galleries in Sydney.[11]

Two of several portraits by Lambert of Proctor hang in the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Portrait Gallery in Australia has a portrait in charcoal, also by Lambert.[2][13][14][15]


  • Awarded a prize at the Bowral Amateur Art Society's exhibition in 1894, while attending Lynthorpe Ladies' College.[2] This was judged by Arthur Streeton)
  • The Society of Artists awarded her a medal in recognition of her influence as a tastemaker in New South Wales.[16]
  • A retrospective exhibition The World of Thea Proctor was held at the National Portrait Gallery, Old Parliament House in 2005.[17][18]
  • Proctor Street in the Canberra suburb of Chisholm is named in her honour.[19]


  • Encyclopedia of Australian Art Alan McCulloch, Hutchinson, London 1968
  • The World of Thea Proctor Barry Humphries, Andrew Sayers, Sarah Engledow, Craftsmann House, St Leonards, NSW, 2005


  1. ^ a b Proctor, Thea. "Thea Proctor". Design and Art Australia Online. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Butler, Roger. Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University – via Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  3. ^ National Gallery of Australia. "George.W.Lambert Retrospective:heroes and icons - George LAMBERT - Miss Thea Proctor".
  4. ^ "The Terrace; Thea PROCTOR, 1879-1966; n.d.; 1943_14 on eHive". eHive. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  5. ^ Contemporary Group, [Contemporary Group : Australian Gallery File], retrieved 20 June 2020
  6. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 18 November 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ (5 November 2008). "Thea Proctor & Margaret Preston".
  8. ^ Gray, Anne (2002). "Thea Proctor". National Gallery of Australia. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  9. ^ "Australians must Develop Taste says Miss Thea Proctor AND HAS SOMETHING TO ADD ABOUT HATS, ARCHITECTURE, THE RUSSIAN BALLET AND THE VENUS de MILO EPIDEMIC IN AMERICA. (1 June 1922)", The Home : An Australian Quarterly, Art in Australia, 3 (2), 1 June 1922, retrieved 20 June 2020
  10. ^ Preston, Margaret. "Thea Proctor's Tea Party". Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
  11. ^ a b "Thea Proctor: a memoir (13 August 1966)", The Bulletin, John Haynes and J.F. Archibald, 88 (4510), 13 August 1966, ISSN 0007-4039
  12. ^ Galbally, Ann E., "Russell, John Peter (1858–1930)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 18 June 2020
  13. ^ Lambert, George W (1903). "Miss Thea Proctor". AGNSW collection record. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  14. ^ Lambert, George W (1916). "Portrait of a lady (Thea Proctor)". AGNSW collection record. Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  15. ^ Proctor, Thea. "The real Thea". National Portrait Gallery of Australia. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  16. ^ Proctor, Thea. "Society of Artists Medal". Retrieved 20 June 2020.
  17. ^ "The World of Thea Proctor". National Portrait Gallery exhibition.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 October 2009. Retrieved 18 November 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ "Schedule 'B' National Memorials Ordinance 1928–1972 Street Nomenclature List of Additional Names with Reference to Origin: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. Special (National: 1977–2012) – 8 Feb 1978". Trove. p. 14. Retrieved 2 April 2020.

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