May Vale Timber Collection




The May Vale Timber Collection consists of 84 Victorian timber samples. The samples were skilfully hand-painted with representative flowers, seeds and foliage for each species. Some of the species included are the native mulberry, hickory wattle and black sheoak. The collection was commissioned by the Industrial & Technological Museum in 1885 and was exhibited as part of the museum's permanent displays and also in international exhibitions including London and Paris.

Artist, May Vale was born on 18 November 1862 in Ballarat, Victoria. She was one of 11 children born to William and Rachel Vale. Her family moved to Melbourne in 1872 where Vale attended Honiton College in St Kilda. It was her father's appointment to London from 1874 to 1878 that enabled Vale to attend the Royal School of Art in South Kensington. This was the first of many international trips for Vale who would spend much of her life living between England, France and Australia. Vale returned to Melbourne a year later in 1879 where she studied at the National Gallery schools until 1886 and again in 1888-89 under G. F. Folingsby and Frederick McCubbin. In 1885 Cosmo Newbery, director of the Industrial ; Technological Museum in Melbourne, commissioned Vale to paint botanical art onto samples of the relevant timbers, for display in the museum. As the Museum and Gallery School were in close proximity it is assumed this drove the selection of May Vale as the artist for the timbers, as she was a Gallery School student at the time. Vale's father was the commissioner of the Exhibitions at the gallery, so this too may have worked in her favour although it must be noted that Vale's technical skills as an artist were quite exceptional and well-regarded. Vale's work was directed by the Government Botanist, Ferdinand von Mueller, whose work on Victorian eucalyptus was ground breaking. Like the wider Economic Botany Collection, the timbers were chosen to inform and expose the glory and commercial possibility of native timbers. The timbers formed part of a large display that went on tour to several large international exhibitions including the 1886 Indian ; Colonial Exhibition in London, the 1887 Jubilee Exhibition in Adelaide, the 1888 Centennial Exhibition in Melbourne, and finally the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Eventually the timbers formed part of the permanent display at the Industrial ; Technological Museum, exhibited on the balcony in Queen's Hall. It is believed that Vale originally painted approximately 100 samples, but for reasons unknown, the number was reduced to 84 in 1952. After travelling to study in London and Paris in 1890, May Vale returned to Melbourne in 1892. Soon after she opened a studio in the city and promoted herself as an artist and portrait painter. In 1900, Vale and fellow landscape artist, Jane Sutherland, were the first women to be elected to the Council of the Victorian Artists' Society. Vale was also a foundation member of the Yarra Sculptors' Society. May Vale revisited London in 1905 to study enamelling, jewellery and metal work. In her absence her works were included with other Heidelberg School women artists in a private exhibition organised by Annie McCubbin in 1905, and in 1907 her work was exhibited as part of the First Exhibition of Australian Women's Work held in the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings. In 1909 she returned to Melbourne and continued to exhibit her paintings and enamels, both in Victoria and New South Wales. Vale's reputation as a portrait artist was well established and she was lauded as "a pioneer of Australian landscape and portraits in enamel". May Vale was actively involved in promoting the standing of professional women artists and was one of the first members of the Buonarotti Society in 1883. She was also active in supporting women's political and civic rights and was a member of the Victorian Women's Suffrage Society. In the 1920s Vale established a studio at Diamond Creek from which she ran art classes and painting excursions. In the late 1930s May Vale went to live at her brother's house at Black Rock. She died on 6 August 1945 aged 82.

Please direct access requests via Museum Victoria's Discovery Centre


1885-1890; Art Exhibitions; Artists; Australian Native Flowers; Economic Botany; Eucalypts; Exhibitions: Adelaide Jubilee International, 1887-1888; Exhibitions: London International, Colonial & Indian, 1885-1886; Exhibitions: Melbourne International Centennial, 1888-1889; Flora; Industrial & Technological Museum; Museum History; Timber Samples; Women's work

Coverage Spatial

Diamond Creek, Victoria, Australia; Paris, France; Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; London, England, United Kingdom; Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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2011-03-31 18:32