The life and artistic journey of Ludmilla Meilerts (1908 – 1997) is reflected in the originality and strength of her paintings. Her intense personal struggle after fleeing her home in post-war Latvia to becoming a notable Australian artist is a larger than life story of resilience and determination.
Metropolis Gallery is proud to present Ludmilla Meilerts: Flowers, an exhibition focusing on the artists’ paintings of flowers from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Meilerts’ long and successful artistic career included most genres of art, but she returned again and again to the simple, honest statement of a vessel holding flowers. Arrays of Christmas Lilies, Chrysanthemums, Roses, Tulips, Poppies or whatever flowers were in season at the time were collected and painted.
Her mastery of colour and the glowing sensation of light passing through translucent petals resulted in the creation of many wonderful floral works. She completed most paintings in a single sitting of about two hours and avoided any reworking of the immediate sensation.
‘I would watch her lightly sketch her outlines with thinned out crimson lake, and quickly block in the areas of colour. The sound of her brushes scratching on the board and the smell of linseed oil and turps were a heady combination…’ (Guna Green, artist)
Friends of Ludmilla have recalled that whenever she was at family gatherings or exhibition openings she was either giving or receiving flowers, making this exhibition of flower paintings a fitting tribute to the artist.
Ludmilla Meilerts graduated from the Latvian Academy of Fine Arts, Riga in 1940, where she made her first experimentations with colour. She was deeply influenced by the head of school Professor Wilhelm Purvitis, a follower of the French Impressionists and regarded as the country’s foremost landscape painter.
After the turmoil left by the Second World War, Ludmilla and husband Otto decided to migrate and build a better life in Australia, arriving in February 1948. She brought a European art sensibility that set her apart from other Australian artists of the time and instilled in her paintings a personal expression of her new homeland. Within six months Meilerts was invited to show three works at the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Artists in Sydney, introducing Meilerts and her work to the Australian art world on the same level as many of the country’s major artists including Russell Drysdale, Lloyd Rees, William Dobell, Margaret Preston, Grace Cossington Smith, Sali Herman, Elaine Haxton, George Bell, Margaret Olley and Thea Proctor.
She held her first Australian solo exhibition at Georges Gallery in Melbourne in April 1949, with the Age art critic noting that ‘Her style is distinctive; the colour harmonies are sensitively rendered. Furthermore the artist has shown that a fresh vision may find material in the local scene capable of being rendered to a higher chromatic range than was hitherto suspected. Both her flower pieces and landscapes go beyond a visual record and express the quintessence of her subject.’
In the inaugural 1950 Dunlop Art Prize (at the time the richest national art award in Australia) Meilerts shared fifth prize with Fred Williams. First prize was won by Sidney Nolan, second by William Frater, with Arthur Boyd third and Charles Bush and Len Annois sharing fourth. She was a Dunlop Prize finalist again in 1951, 1952, 1953 and 1954, continuing to be selected alongside important Australian artists of the time.
Ludmilla participated in important Victorian Artists Society (VAS) group shows in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, won the prestigious Gosford Art Prize in 1971 and the coveted VAS Pirstitz Gold Medal in 1982 which honoured her contribution to the Society and to Australian art.
Since Meilerts made her first appearance on the Australian art scene in 1948, art writers have sought to categorize the influences on her work, suggesting French Impressionism, Pointillism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Neo-Impressionism.
In her book More Than Just Gumtrees (1993) art historian Juliet Peers discussed Meilerts’ role in the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors: ‘One of the most important migrant artists in the MSWPS was Ludmilla Meilerts… her art is saturated with the vibrating colours of the earliest hedonistic period of expressionism, when German artists were building upon the lead of the impressionists and fauves in France; abstracting and intensifying the colours and making the brush strokes expressive participants in the effect of the painting, more than a means of transcription.’ And ‘… she painted landscapes, still lifes and flowers in an extroverted manner and recorded the Melbourne scene of the 1950s with animation and vivacity’.
In a career spanning five decades, Meilerts created a significant and extensive body of work that included the abundance of flowers to which this exhibition ‘Flowers’ is dedicated.
Ludmilla Meilerts is represented in many Australian private and public collections including the National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of NSW, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Western Australia and regional Galleries at La Trobe Valley, Bendigo, and Portland in Victoria and Gosford in New South Wales.