Margaret Preston

Australia 1875–1963
Preston was one of our most celebrated modern artists and an outspoken public voice on Australian culture. Renowned as a printmaker as well as a painter, she championed a distinctly Australian style, based on the principles and motifs of modernist, Aboriginal and Asian art. Born Margaret Rose Macpherson, she studied in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide as well as Europe. Returning to Australia, she challenged the dominant academism with paintings and woodcuts of domestic appliances and native flora and fauna.

Implement blue 1927

Embodying the values of modern living, Implement blue is one of the finest images of early Australian modernism and one of Preston’s most innovative works. The painting is a bridge between naturalistic representation and abstraction. Its strong composition echoes visual elements of commercial photography and graphic design. Artificial lighting emphasises the clean lines and reflective surfaces of the machine-made objects.

Preston herself commented at this time that the reason there are ‘so many tables of still life in modern painting is because they are really laboratory tables on which aesthetic problems are isolated’.

Margaret Preston Implement blue 1927

People and places

In the 20th century, daily life was transformed at every level by mechanisation. Writing about herself in 1927, Preston said: ‘She feels that this is a mechanical age – a scientific one – highly civilised and unaesthetic. She knows that the time has come to express her surroundings in her work. All around her in the simple domestic life is machinery – patent ice-chests that need no ice, machinery does it; irons heated by invisible heat; washing up machines; electric sweepers, and so on. They all surround her and influence her mind…’