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Diana Mogensen (1929-1994)

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  • DIANA MOGENSEN (1929-1994) Pait of monotypesi) Comorienne Au Coq 1988ii) Boy with Duck 1988

Diana Mogensen Biography

The painter, draughtsman and lithographer Diana Mogensen was born in Melbourne in 1929.

After completing haute couture studies in Paris, Diana ran a dress design business in South Yarra before becoming a full time artist.

Encouraged by Noel Counihan to make art her life, Diana returned to Paris to live, and study at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere.

Her five years there drawing from the model, and her street dessins, saw her develop an extraordinary and powerful sense of line.

On her return to Australia, Diana became skilled in lithography, etching and tempera media in addition to her favoured ink and pastel, and explored life at the circus, in the shearing shed, in the marketplace, in the home.

An avid and intrepid traveller, Diana was particularly drawn to island cultures, where she captured the everyday lives and work of women and men.

Diana died in 1994. Her work is represented in major collections throughout Australia.

Noel Counihan was Diana Mogensen’s mentor, and encouraged her to become a full-time artist.

Diana took two courses with Noel: painting (1964) and drawing (1965). She visited his Camberwell studio to watch him work and learn his methods, and he visited her Hawthorn studio to evaluate the work she was then doing independently.

My conversations with Noel were amongst the most important I have had in my life.
I asked Noel to assess my talent, which by this stage he knew quite well…

Diana made her professional debut with the Realist Group in 1965.

Noel’s advice and substantial encouragement enabled me to pursue the course that I did: and that was to leave Australia for five years, study art in Paris and ultimately, become an artist.

Over the next five years, Diana applied herself to learning how to draw. Like Noel, Diana had a deep love of drawing and looked upon it as the basis for art.

Each day from Monday to Saturday, I walked through the Luxembourg Gardens from my hotel near the Boulevard St Michel to the Grande Chaumiere where life drawing took place for three hours.

There was no tuition. Monsieur le guardien told me that it was necessary to teach yourself, to train your mind, your eye and your hand. It took me three years. The models were Chinese, French, Italian, Vietnamese, but it was the Africans who inspired me most.

Classes attracted 30-40 people from all over the world. It began with a 45 minute pose, a break of 15 minutes, followed by two 25 minute poses, a break, and ending with three short five minute poses.

During the Mai evenements of 1968, the Grande Chaumiere closed down, and Diana began her annual tour of France.

After the girls had gone back to boarding school in Littlehampton, Sussex, England, I took off in my little third-hand Austin A40 and roamed the south of France, stopping wherever the scene or village grabbed me. The markets in Haute Provence, the vitality of the scene with umbrellas, olives and flowers of Nice and the Romanesque Campaniles were inspiring.

After three or four weeks of filling sketchbook after sketchbook, I returned to Paris to the Grande Chaumiere to draw and paint watercolours in my room.

Noel Counihan visited Diana during this time in Europe (when Noel was at the Cite des Arts, 1969). In an earlier letter he wrote: “Diana, you have broken through”.

Works of this period: Drawings, portraits, lithographs, temperas – circus performers, market scenes, shearing, pastels, charcoals, gouaches

Diana returned to Australia in 1971 and held her first one-man exhibition of her Paris work at the Australian Galleries.

'The open rhythms of her drawings are outstandingly the best works.'
(Alan McCulloch, Herald)

'[The] still life and scenes of Paris…are handled with assurance and skill.'
(Ann Galbally, The Age)

Over the next eight years, Diana exhibited with Ararat Gallery (drawings, gouaches, 1973) and Stuart Gersmann Galleries (drawings 1977 and 1978).

'…the free, sparkling and alive drawings by Mary McQueen and Diana Mogensen. The show reaches its best in the work of these two artists.' (McCulloch, Herald 1978)

Diana subsequently joined Niagara Galleries and exhibited there three times: Ubud Suite: A Royal Cremation drawings, 1981; gouaches, drawings 1985; lithographs 1987.

A circus drawing was acquired in 1987 by the National Gallery of Victoria and exhibited in Backlash: The Australian Drawing Revival.

'Some of the most pleasurable works in ‘Backlash’ are in fact those by little-known artists like Diana Mogensen…' (Catalano, The Age)

'The most commendable features of ‘Backlash’ was probably the curator’s inclusion of some works by little-known (outside of Melbourne) mature women artists Diana Mogensen and Pam Hallandal, both born in 1929 and extending the female humanist traditions or portraiture established by Melbourne’s late Joy Hester in the 1940s.'
(Arthur McIntyre, The Age)

Diana’s first tempera paintings were exhibited at the Gray Street Gallery in Hamilton, Victoria in 1989.

Over this period, Diana’s work was acquired by the Mornington Peninsula Arts Centre, the National Gallery of Victoria, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria, Gold Coast City Art Collection, City of Hamilton Art Gallery, Musee Leon Dierx, Saint Denis de la Reunion, Jardine Fleming, Victoria, and the Swan Hill Regional Gallery. In 1995, the National Library of Australia acquired two circus drawings.

Diana also won five prizes for her drawings and prints.

Throughout this period, Diana’s use of linear forms and graphic medium dominated her oeuvre, and pastel, ink, red and black chalk and gouache used on a wide range of hand-made and specialist artists’ papers.

My work is graphic. I see things graphically. Initially, line and form are more important to me than colour. Drawing comes innately to me.

In 1987, Diana branched out into lithography, a medium which became an important part of her work.

I fell in love with lithography. I found I could extend my drawings. With lithography you can achieve a richer line.

The technique of lithography is based on the natural antipathy of oil and water. The image is made on a slab of polished limestone with a greasy crayon. The texture of the stone is such that, if moistened, the water adheres as an even film except where the grease has been applied. When a roller charged with heavy oil-based ink is applied to the moistened surface , the ink adheres only to the greasy areas. After the printing, the greasy image remains on the stone and the process of moistening, inking and printing may be repeated.

In 1980, Diana started experimenting with egg tempera painting.

I was unhappy with oils. They were too slow to dry and unsuited to linear work … and turpentine affected my eyes.

Tempera comes from the Latin ‘to mingle’, which refers to the mixture of egg yolk with pigment. The egg binds the dry pigment and allows it to adhere to the panel. Tempera was used universally in Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries and works from this period retain their full brilliance and freshness of colour.

Diana adapted this traditional method to her particular linear style of painting. She painstakingly prepared the panel, which is then covered with linen or muslin, before applying the gesso. This gesso ground , made up of gypsum, titanium white and protein glue, produces an ideal, tactile surface:

Tempera is the most perfect and stable medium ever invented and is glorious to work with. It is very quick-drying, it gives more spontaneity. You can achieve a layering of the ground, which gives substance to the line.

Major themes

Diana’s work was essentially a humanist one and concerned with the human condition.

My work centres on the expression of this theme and man’s deeply rooted place in Nature. However, landscapes, per se, rarely interest me.

Diana concentrated on themes such as shearing, circus performers and women of African and Pacific cultures. She regularly drew the shearing at her sister and brother-in-law’s property, ‘Goolahbah’, Holbrook, NSW.

I have an enormous admiration for manual workers. A shearer, who was the backbone of Australia’s industry, takes only three minutes to shear a sheep using five different rhythmic movements.

In the circus, the sheer skill, dedication, practice and beauty of the acts has engaged me since childhood when my father took me to Wirth’s. For 10 years I sketched the Ashton’s Circus when they pitched their Big Top on Burnley Oval.

A depiction of women has a special place in Diana’s oeuvre.

I react to the inequality of women’s place in society and the fact that they are the work horses of society. I am concerned that they reflect their new found self-confidence.

Having travelled extensively, Diana saw at first hand the role of women in many Third World and other cultures, and used these images throughout her work.

I draw on the African women as models because of the strong physical superiority and facial characteristics.

In some Islamic cultures, for example, the Comores, the women have total authority in running the markets and operate them themselves for profit and gain.

In 1981, Diana embarked on a special project to draw the portraits of women of excellence and achievement who had distinguished themselves in Victoria.

I planned to include women from as many fields as possible and ultimately extend the the range Australia-wide. My prime motivation was spurred by the realisation that men of attainment and eminence very often had their portraits painted, whilst women of similar stature mostly did not. Such women were unknown beyond their own sphere of influence and I felt this to be a great pity.

Women need to be reminded of their capabilities and of the high level of achievement gained by so many outstanding Australian women. For in the past, women of this calibre have largely remained the unsung and unrecorded heroines of Australian history.

Diana’s portraits include: Dame Margaret Blackwood, Dr Margaret Sutherland, Dorothy J Ross, Beatrice Faust, Dame Beryl Beaurepaire, Dulcie Boling, Glen Tomasetti, Monica Maughan, Bunney Brooke, Mary Macqueen, Katherine West, Frances Burke, Dame Ada Norris and Nancy Dexter.

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