Max Meldrum


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Australian painter. He was born in Edinburgh, emigrated to Melbourne in 1889, and studied there at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School. In 1899 he won the School's travelling scholarship and went to France, where he lived for the next twelve years. He returned to Melbourne in 1911 and in 1917 established a school there at which he disseminated his highly opinionated ideas on art. These theories were also expressed in a book published in 1917—Max Meldrum: His Art and Views, edited by Colin Colahan. Meldrum's ideas were based on study of the Old Masters, particularly Velázquez, whom he revered above all other painters. He regarded painting as a wholly objective exercise in defining and translating optical impressions by analysing tone in a rationally ordered way: ‘The careful study of undisputed art strongly leads me to the conviction that the art of painting is a pure science.’ He thought that modern art, with its emphasis on colour and individual expression, spelt social decadence. Meldrum's paintings faithfully reflect his doctrines, being competently handled but singularly lacking in inspiration. In spite of his obvious limitations as an artist, his views gained many adherents in Melbourne and Sydney in the inter-war period. He was a powerful personality (Lionel Lindsay called him ‘the mad Mullah’) and ‘inspired in his students the devotion appropriate to a Messiah. He mercilessly drilled every shred of personal vision out of them, and they loved him for it’ (Robert Hughes, The Art of Australia, 1970). None of his pupils gained any great distinction. Meldrum's outspokenness and dedication to his convictions often brought him into public conflict, particularly in his role as a trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria (1937–45).

Subjects: Art.

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