Women from History: Margaret Preston's Rules

By Julia Ritson Magaret Preston was a formidable artist and an inspiring teacher who was interested in everything.

I'm drawn to her domestic scenes from the 1910s. Scenes played out in a modern world within a landscape of war.

A device she used in many of her flower paintings was the table cloth. The cloth enabled the artist to emphasise the shallow space, pushing all to the front of the picture plane. An abstraction.

Red, white, blue and black plaid in this painting. Preston is starting to experiment with the flattening of space. When you see these paintings in the flesh, you get a better idea of her use of empty areas to provide light to the overall design.

Margaret Preston, Holiday still life, 1913

In this painting she uses an indoor/outdoor concept with the cloth playing a large part.

Preston said "why there are so many tables of still life in modern paintings is because they are really laboratory tables on which aesthetic problems can be isolated."

Margaret Preston, Still life sunshine indoors, 1914

The red and white gingham in this painting adds an unpretentious element to the complexity of the picture plane.

A wonderful use of black in the lacquer tray alongside the black border pushes the composition into edgy territory.

Margaret Preston, Still life, 1915

In this painting you get to experience Preston's love of white paint in all its chalkiness.

The pink and white striped cloth is reflected charmingly in the shiny tea pot.

Margaret Preson, Still life with teapot and daisies, 1915

Preston was also a prolific writer. One of her quirkier works was a piece she wrote for The Home in 1926 with instructions for furnishing a bedroom.

Mrs Margaret Preston makes some practical suggestions for arranging a bedroom, keeping in mind that it is the most intimate room in the house.

WALLS Painted in a pale colour, preferably cream or pink.

WOODWORK Light in colour, matt in surface work.

CEILING Plain white, small decorated line separating walls from ceiling.

FLOOR Seagrass mat, not too big, so that it can be taken up each week. Outside borders of boards stained or painted. Grey soft mats for the bedside etc.

MANTEL If made of wood, stained a bright colour to match mats and curtains.

ON THE MANTEL No draperies; a few intimate possessions and a few pet books; coloured line mats. Needlework (samples) framed, or a water colour painting - a gaily coloured print would do. No oil paintings in a bedroom.

CURTAINS Washing material, something with a bright stripe. Keep rather short.

FURNITURE Single beds of wood and cane; two or three chairs, one an easy chair with a slip-on cretonne cover, one with a straight back for the dressing table; a low, wide dressing table - all straight lines except the oval mirror. The woodwork to be of a very highly polished and the dressing table effects glittering silver or glass.

PICTURE Water colours or prints.

ORNAMENTS, LAMPS, ETC No ornaments. No top lights; they make shadows in the mirror.

The world according to Mrs Preston.

Julia Ritson is a Melbourne artist. Her paintings investigate colour, abstraction and a long-standing fascination with the grid. Julia has enriched and extended her studio practice with a series of limited edition art scarves. She also produces an online journal dedicated to art and scarves and architecture.