Stained Glass Artist Printmaker
IImage: Angels, St James Ivanhoe
Born in 1894 to a tradesman father in a provincial gold-mining town in Victoria, Christian Waller’s rare talent was recognised as a girl. She studied at the National Gallery School and at the British centres of the Arts and Crafts stained glass revival. On her return she built a career patronised by architects, attracting more commissions than even her dedicated labour could manage. Her choice of medium, later illness, reclusive tendencies in later life and tragically early death in 1954 contributed to her extraordinary achievement being neglected until recently. Waller was, however, Australia’s sole woman professional stained glass artist until the craft revival of the 1970s and a leading proponent of Modernism in Australian art.
Christian Waller was inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, Symbolism, the Celtic Revival via William Butler Yeats and George Russell, and most strongly by Theosophy and Hermetic lore. She was intensely spiritual and developed a unique synthesis of Christianity and Theosophy. This permeated her theologically sophisticated art works which parallel those of Piet Mondrian and Hilma af Klint. These esoteric influences were little understood at the time or subsequently, but her work has been universally admired for its mastery of technique, sumptuous colour, brilliant design and originality. She was a fascinating, individual woman of strong personality and wide-ranging imagination, who inspired love in those fortunate enough to be her friends.
Image: Portrait of Christian Waller Jack Cato
CHRISTIAN WALLER STAINED GLASS: TOWARDS THE LIGHT
Australian Scholarly Publishing North Melbourne 2022 ISBN 9781922669476 Paperback 400 pp 251 ill. with slipcase $150
In this superb volume Dr Miley examines for the first time Christian Waller's entire oeuvre in glass and offers a detailed analysis of the themes, styles, influences and iconography of her works. Waller was an artist of exceptional originality and ability, widely admired in her own time and the creator of over a hundred stained glass windows as well as prints, paintings and illustrations. She was a leading proponent of modernism in Australian art.
The introduction documents Waller’s life, work and beliefs. An essay by leading stained glass artist and restorer Geoffrey Wallace describes her innovative techniques and the catalogue analyses over a hundred windows as well as the unexecuted designs and sketches. A list of drawings and designs for glass, a chronology, glossary and gazetteer complete this important addition to knowledge about Australian women artists.
Christian Waller Stained Glass: Towards the Light is available in paperback and a special signed edition with slipcase.
Dr Caroline Miley has had a lifetime interest in decorative arts, especially stained glass. She was Lecturer in Art History and Theory at the Victorian College of the Arts (University of Melbourne) and Curator of the College Collection. She consults for heritage architects and has published a number of pioneering books on the Arts and Crafts Movement in Australia and related subjects as well as social criticism and literary historical fiction. This book is the culmination of many years' research and a personal interest in the artist and her work.
Book Launch: Ivanhoe Library and Cultural Hub 30th July
by Kristin Stegley OAM, Director of the National Trust Australia (Victoria).
Castlemaine Art Museum
27th August 1.00 - 2.00
Castlemaine was Christian Waller's birthplace and the Art Museum holds a number of interesting examples of her work.
Talk and Tour of the Stained Glass:
St James Anglican Church
252 Upper Heidelberg Rd Ivanhoe
17th September 2.30-3.30
The Wallers lived in Ivanhoe and St James Anglican Church holds one of the largest collections of fine stained glass by Christian Waller, plus several windows by her husband Napier Waller.
Geelong Grammar School, Corio
Geelong Grammar School Chapel of All Saints contains the largest collection of Christian Waller glass, including a unique set of war memorial windows.
Talk and Tour of the Stained Glass
*BOOK online via
'Of all the designers in Australia, I consider that there are none comparable with Napier Waller and Mrs Waller; I would even place Mrs Waller first ... You can depend upon it that her work will be splendid and is worth waiting for.’
- Louis Williams, architect
Stained glass was a craft rarely practised by women in Melbourne in the early twentieth century. Christian Waller was the first woman in Australia, and one of few in the world at that time, to take up the craft as a profession. That she did so with such marked success is a lasting tribute to her skill and originality. From 1927 to 1953 she produced over one hundred individual stained-glass panels, which in terms of quantity, artistry and quality, places her as one of Australia’s leading stained-glass makers of the twentieth century, and one of its most significant women artists. She was innovative, radical and counter-cultural, to an extent that has only recently begun to be appreciated.
During her short working life of a little over twenty years, she created the almost incredible number of one hundred and eighteen individual lights plus traceries, as well as her graphic works. She employed techniques such as plating and aciding that were unknown in Australia at the time. Considering that she did almost all the work herself, while at the same time assisting her husband Napier Waller with his mosaics, it was a remarkable achievement. Her windows, mainly ecclesiastical commissions, are notable for the originality of their concepts, the beauty of their colouration and delicacy of painting. They combine subtle and varied symbolism with a strong personal element which gives them a drawing power beyond the usual.
Images: Top left to bottom: Weir memorial, Geelong Grammar Chapel; St Hilda, St James Old Cathedral; Christ Triumphant, St Paul's Frankston; St Paul's, Linton detail; St Giles, St Giles Murrumbeena
PRINTS AND GRAPHICS
“The sequence of prints are superb examples of a very difficult medium, and they reflect the intensely imaginative genius of Christian Waller. Their pictorial content matches to perfection the mysticism of the theme." - Blamire Young, artist and critic
Christian Waller was a printmaker of considerable ability and imagination. She favoured relief printing and her masterpiece in the medium was her set of seven prints titled The Great Breath (1932), a bold, brilliant exposition of Theosophical doctrine created on her own press at Crown Rd. For her next book, The Gates of Dawn (1935) she chose lithography, as the extensive text would have challenged the bounds of relief printing.
Christian Waller was a great exponent of the then popular art of the bookplate, and made plates for all her friends, incorporating references to their lives and astrological and alchemical symbols, all carried out in her own style, influenced by the Vienna Secession, Art Deco and Arts and Crafts illustration. For her own bookplate she chose an image of the Christ Child with arms outstretched to embrace the world, a favourite motif. The plate was later turned into a greeting card, her name being replaced by the motto 'Peace on Earth'.
Images: Upper left to bottom: The Star in the East greeting card; 'Welcome, Christopher' said the Daughter of the Sun, from The Gates of Dawn, Christian Waller's bookplate
Christian’s beliefs have fascinated many people, partly on account of their opacity. They are not easy to define and perhaps their most prominent feature is their syncretism. She was a highly spiritual woman who searched for transcendent meaning through her life and art. The paucity of anything she wrote about her spirituality has meant that it has had to be pieced together. She was brought up as a Presbyterian. She had an interest in the occult, legend and mythology from an early age; where this came from is hard to discover, but such interests were not unusual at the time. She was keenly interested in Theosophy, but not actually a member of the Society. She had a reliable knowledge of Christianity from a Protestant perspective. These are the main influences and what appears in her oeuvre is the most reliable indicator of her beliefs. What it reveals is a consistent, intensely personal iconography that held deep meaning for her and influenced the design of her graphics and stained glass.
Images: Upper left to bottom: Theosophical Society symbol; Incarnation, Canterbury Uniting Church; Shepherd of Dreams, The Great Breath; Pardon, St Matthew's, Prahran; Artemis, Leckie window, University of Melbourne.
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