Obituary: Elaine Haxton

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The Independent Culture
THE AUSTRALIAN artist Elaine Haxton was possessed of - one of her friends said she was cursed by - a strong decorative talent.

From childhood, she was determined to be an artist of some kind; and devoted her life to painting, drawing and print-making after early training as a sculptor. She was a leading member of what was derisively named the "Charm School" of Sydney painters in the 1940s and 1950s. Her own charm was undoubted - neat, small figure, bright blue eyes, blonde hair that turned silver early - and her work was always agreeable to look at.

She painted in oils, but worked busily also in designing sets for theatre and opera - she studied theatre design in the United States at the end of the Thirties, and then visited Mexico before returning to wartime Sydney. There she received the Summit Prize in 1943 for her mural at the Coq d'Or restaurant at King's Cross: a recognition of her role in keeping the lights of culture shining bright in wartime.

Not long after the Second World War, she joined a group of artists headed by her friends Sidney Nolan and William Dobell who designed fabrics intended to enliven the textile market; this was not a success, as Australian housewives preferred the conventional patterns their mothers had used.

The influence of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who had been killed in action when she was a little girl, led her to a brief abstract phase, from which she emerged after a visit to China with an Australian cultural delegation in the late Fifties. By a stroke of luck, she was later invited by Qantas airlines to travel round the world at their expense, on the understanding that they could use any two of her resulting drawings for advertisements. So she saw Angkor Wat, before the jungle swallowed it; saw Isfahan, before the revolution in Iran; saw the Parthenon; and was strongly influenced by the beauties of a Bali still immune from tourism. Qantas did not use any of her drawings, either. She also visited Kyoto and Tokyo for training in print-making by Japanese masters.

She was well represented in art galleries over most of Australia, and was invited to paint the murals in the Parliament House at Canberra; in recognition of her success with these, she was made a member of the Australian Order.

In 1954 she married (as his third wife) a retired English brigadier, R. C. Foot, who built her a house on the Pittwater, some 20 miles north of Sydney, which became a local centre of civilised existence. He died in 1969; they had no children.

Her closing years were clouded by Alzheimer's disease and by incipient blindness. Her niece Marcia Thomas survives her.

M. R. D. Foot

Elaine Alys Haxton, painter: born Melbourne, Victoria 26 September 1909; AM 1986; married 1954 Brigadier Richard Cunningham Foot (died 1969); died Adelaide, South Australia 6 July 1999.

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