Celebrated Tasmanian artist and photographer Elspeth Hope-Johnstone died this morning in Hobart at the age of 94.
Elspeth was a life-long promoter of education, women and the arts. Educated at Hobart's Friends School, she was appointed Director of Hobart's Lady Gowrie Child Centre in 1949 and in 1953 became the Tasmanian Supervisor of Pre-School Education.
Elspeth was a commissioner of the ABC, first chair of the Friends of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) and a life-long supporter of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. She donated Tasmanian art and furniture, dating back to the 1820s, to public institutions including TMAG.
As Elspeth Vaughan, she was a founding member of Tasmania's watercolour school or Sunday Group of Painters which was at its height in the second half of the Twentieth Century.
Elspeth was influenced at the outset by her Launcestonian grandmother Mary Greig whose paintings, in particular still-lifes of flowers, were highly prized a century ago.
She learned the art of simple, powerful lines from Tasmania's famous mid-century painter, Jack Carrington-Smith. Taking Sunday excursions with her fellow watercolourists Max Angus, Patricia Giles, Roy Cox and Harrie Buckie, Elspeth developed a clean, evocative style of landscape painting which capitalised on Tasmania’s renowned soft, clear light.
After a major exhibition with Harrie Buckie in 1965 she staged the first Hobart exhibition dedicated to the threatened Lake Pedder in 1970. For this she walked into the remote lake "almost every weekend between Christmas and Easter" to paint en plein air. Elspeth said that "the experience of the real Lake Pedder was spiritual, aesthetic and emotional in any weather conditions". In recent years she backed the campaign to have the lake restored.
Her greatest public legacy is her watercolours of the Tasmanian wilds. In a 1992 review for the Mercury, critic Joerg Andersh described her work as 'bold, august and with an almost germanic "no-nonsense" air'. Her beach scenes were 'the most evocative ... technically the most satisfying ... it is in the unstated that Elspeth shines'.
With husband Ralph, who died in 1989, she was prominent in environmental campaigns including for Lake Pedder, the Franklin River and the wild forests.
“Elspeth was an inspiration for artists and environmentalists alike. She lived for Tasmania’s wilderness and has left the state a tangible legacy of paintings, photographs and antiques. A remarkable Tasmanian,” friend and former senator Bob Brown said today.