H.W. Grace

H. W.   G r a c e

AWI President 1951-1952

Henry Aloysius Hanke (1901-1989), H.W. Grace Esq. 1950-51, Oil, Courtesy: Artarmon Galleries

Despite his long service to the Australian Watercolour Institute as honorary secretary cum treasurer, and brief tenure as President, little has been documented about Hubert Wesley Grace. Succeeding Rah Fizelle, a Modernist who revitalised the Institute and altered the perception of the society as stylistically retardataire, would have rendered Grace’s responsibility onerous in his office as president.

The eighth of nine children, Hubert Wesley Grace was born on 14 May 1883 in Sydney to Henry Grace and Sophia Margaret Fairclough.1 Hubert’s father, Henry, had emigrated to Australia from Hampshire, England, with his parents and four siblings, arriving in Port Jackson, New South Wales, on the vessel Tartar in February 1851.2

In 1898, at the age of fifteen, Grace was employed on probation as a pupil teacher at various high schools in Sydney prior to being transferred to Newcastle in 1904 upon confirmation of his appointment as an assistant teacher, a position he abandoned four years later.3 He married Kathleen Genevieve Pemell in 1909 in Randwick, with whom he would have four children.4

In compliance with the Commonwealth Defence Act, which made military training and service compulsory in time of peace, Grace joined the Australian Garrison Artillery and, in 1910, was promoted to ‘the rank of second lieutenant (provisionally), supernumerary to the establishment pending absorption.’ 5 He subsequently retired in 1912 under the provisions of Commonwealth Regulation 65.6 In 1913, Grace and his family were domiciled in Cavendish Street, Petersham, his occupation being recorded as clerk, as it was in all subsequent electoral rolls. The family later resided in Copeland Street, Beecroft and, ultimately, in See Street, Meadowbank.7

The frequent citation of Grace and his wife in the society pages of national newspapers, from as early as the 1920s, attests to his social prominence as a businessman, who was employed by Tooth & Co., the major brewery in New South Wales. As confirmed by reports of Masonic funerals that he attended, he was also a Freemason affiliated with the Glebe Lodge, remaining a member of that Lodge until his death.8 

Records are scant concerning Grace’s formation as an artist, being largely regarded as an ardent amateur, although the Australian Art Database lists 152 of his works exhibited between 1924 and 1963.9 While it is unknown if he undertook formal studies or was an autodidact, Grace was a competent watercolourist who moved in elevated artistic circles, having been frequently cited in newspaper reports as a guest of the Royal Art Society at exhibitions and functions, at which he often contributed to the entertainment program, including a dinner held in 1920 by W. Lister Lister, President of the RAS, at the Daisy Café, Hunter Street, Sydney, in honour of the return to Australia of artists John Longstaff, Tom Roberts, A.H. Fullwood and A.J. Daplyn.10

Having become a member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales in 1922, Grace was a regular exhibitor with that group from 1924 until 1954 and, during the early 1930s, also showed with the Society of Artists.11 Elected to membership of the Australian Watercolour Institute in 1927, he served for many years as honorary secretary under Founding President, B.E. Minns, succeeding in that office A.J. Daplyn, Grace Owen and Basil Burdett, art dealer, critic, and partner in the important Macquarie Galleries in Bligh Street, Sydney. In that capacity, Grace often accompanied Minns in representing the Australian Watercolour Institute at art functions and funerals of eminent artists, notably that of George Lambert in 1930.12 It was a role in which he distinguished himself, attracting laudatory notice in the press for his enterprise in managing the 1930 annual exhibition:

In connection with the annual exhibition of the Australian Watercolour Institute at the Education Department’s Gallery, one must pay a tribute to H.W. Grace, the Hon. Secretary, who has given a note of gaiety to the setting by the introduction of small orange and lemon trees in solid tubs painted bright blue or yellow. With lounge chairs, he has made the place look comfortable and habitable and, instead of the usual walk around and then exit, one lingers in the bright atmosphere, and takes the time to view the collection thoroughly. The difficulty of subduing the reflection of light on the glass covering paintings has always been a problem, the light on the works on one side being reflected again on those on the opposite walls. Mr Grace has mitigated this by introducing screens down the centre. They are composed of a light black material fixed on a simple framework. The collection of pictures is worthy of the setting, being probably the best the society has shown, the work of Norman Lindsay, Blamire Young, Fred Leist, B.E. Minns and G.K. Townshend being up to a high standard.13

Harold Herbert, artist and art critic for the Argus and Australasian, similarly extolled Grace’s merits in 1932:

The ninth annual exhibition by the members of the Australian Watercolour Institute will be held in Sydney in April at the Art Gallery, Education Building, Loftus Street. This society has as its Chairman Mr B.E. Minns, whose work, both as a watercolour painter and black and white artist, is well known everywhere. This society – the only one of its kind in Australia – has held many very successful exhibitions, and they have become events to which the art-loving public look forward. An energetic secretary in Mr H.W. Grace has kept this art society very much alive. Its membership list includes Australia’s best painters in watercolour, and a high standard is usually maintained at these annual exhibitions.14

With respect to his own oeuvre, Grace was a traditional painter, predominantly of plein air landscapes and bucolic genre scenes in the romantic style of Arthur Streeton, his watercolours demonstrating a proficient rendering of distance, ambient light and atmosphere. He exhibited consistently with the AWI until 1963 and his work on occasion garnered favourable mention. In a review of the 1930 AWI annual exhibition in the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, it was noted that, ‘H.W. Grace shows a panel of seven capably handled landscapes, of which the most important is Lisarow.15 Similarly, Grace’s ‘group of crisp, clear landscapes’ shown in the Institute’s eleventh annual exhibition was lauded by the art critic of the Sydney Morning Herald.16

In fact, Grace was three times a finalist in the Wynne Prize for landscape at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, notably in 1943 (Marsfield Landscape), 1947 (South Coast Landscape) and 1950 (Barrington Country). Interestingly, the 1950 Wynne Prize was won by Lloyd Rees (an AWI member from 1978 until his death in 1988) with his painting, The Harbour from McMahon’s Point. Moreover, Henry Aloysius Hanke’s portrait of H.W. Grace, Esq. was a finalist in the 1951 Archibald Prize. Presumably, Grace had forged a friendship with H.A. Hanke through their mutual membership of Royal Art Society, consolidated through Hanke’s association with Tooth & Co., for which brewery he produced advertising posters and pub paintings. 

Hubert Wesley Grace, of See Street, Meadowbank, died on 10 June 1966, age 83.17 He was survived by his wife, Kathleen, who died on 11 March 1968 in West Ryde.18 Comprised in Grace’s estate as part of his personal collection was an early portrait of Dame Mary Gilmore painted in 1891 by Ethel Stephens (Julian Ashton’s first pupil), which was acquired from Artarmon Galleries in 1986, twenty years after Grace’s death, by the State Library of New South Wales, together with a letter addressed to Grace from Dame Mary Gilmore containing her recollections of sitting for that portrait.19


  1. Australia Birth Index, 1788-1922, Registration Number 1817.
  2. New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826-1922.
  3. New South Wales Teachers’ Rolls, 1869-1908, Vol. 7, p. 323.
  4. Australia Marriage Index, 1788-1959, Registration Number 204.
  5. Commonwealth Gazette, No. 56, 10 September 1910, p. 1531. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 September 1910.
  6. Commonwealth Gazette, No. 36, 11 May 1912, p. 983.
  7. Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980.
  8. Information from Masonic Records, United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Evening News, 11 August 1930.
  9. Australian Art Database, Information courtesy of Claire Eggleston, Librarian, Art Gallery of New South Wales.
  10. Sydney Morning Herald, 14 September 1920.
  11. Information from the records of the Royal Art Society, courtesy of Christine Feher, RAS Secretary.
  12. Sydney Morning Herald, 2 June, 1930.
  13. Brisbane Courier, Saturday, 10 May 1930.
  14. The Australasian, 20 February 1932.
  15. Sydney Morning Herald, 15 April 1931.
  16. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 1934.
  17. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 June 1966.
  18. Sydney Morning Herald, 15 March 1968.
  19. Information provided by Artarmon Galleries from their records.

Copyright © Linda van Nunen and David van Nunen

Extract from Brushes with History: Masters of Watercolour by Linda van Nunen and David van Nunen (The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2015)

Copyright © Australian Watercolour Institute