The blossoming of Vida

The blossoming of Vida

By Susan Prior

The highly acclaimed Australian artist, Frances Vida Lahey, born in 1882 (d. 1968), was the eldest child of David Lahey and Jane Jemima Walmsley, and one of 12 children, eight boys and four girls.

Vida Lahey, 1927, photograph courtesy of John and Hazel Lahey.

Vida Lahey, 1927, photograph courtesy of John and Hazel Lahey.

All four Lahey girls were encouraged by their parents to ‘look to the future’. Vida, who had spent some time in Melbourne at the National Gallery School under the tutelage of, among others Frederick McCubbin, became an artist earning her own income from her paintings and from teaching. In 1912, while the family were living at Greylands in Indooroopilly, she painted her classic Monday Morning, a laundry scene at the house. This painting truly launched her career, and it is now part of the Queensland Art Gallery’s permanent collection, having been donated by Brisbane poet Mme Emily Coungeau.

Following this success she worked hard to encourage the arts in Queensland, sitting on a variety of art committees and organising balls, tableaux and other fund-raising events.

But then World War I intervened, and four of Vida’s brothers enlisted. As the oldest sibling, she had assumed the mantle of taking care of her younger siblings, and, in fact, there were 15 Lahey cousins involved in the war, so for Vida it probably seemed a logical and practical course to establish a base in England for when her boys were on leave or were sick so she could look after them. She set sail in 1916 aboard The Magnolia and stayed away for nearly five years. In England she was quickly swept up in the war effort doing volunteer work; it is believed that while she was there she was supported financially by the extended Lahey family.

After the war Vida remained in Europe, studying art and traveling, returning to Australia to resume her career in 1921. Vida painted, judged, won awards and received much critical acclaim over her lifetime. She is one of Queensland’s best-loved artists.

In 2010–2011, the Queensland Art Gallery held an exhibition of her work. The website page for the exhibition says this:

Although floral still lifes were a popular genre throughout Australia at the time, Lahey's handling of brilliant colour was considered exceptional and her paintings were exhibited in southern states from the 1920s to wide acclaim. She continued to produce these delightful floral studies to the end of her career.

Lahey, Vida (Australia 1882–1968)  Monday Morning  1912, Oil on canvas. Gift of Madame Emily Coungeau through the Queensland Art Society 1912. Collection Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art.

Lahey, Vida (Australia 1882–1968) Monday Morning 1912, Oil on canvas. Gift of Madame Emily Coungeau through the Queensland Art Society 1912. Collection Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art.

Descendants of the Lahey family still live in Brisbane and I have some of them to thank for helping me with research for these articles: John Lahey (great grandson of David) and his wife Hazel, and Lyn Armstrong (great granddaughter of David).

This article was first published in the Summer 2015 edition of local Brisbane magazine Living in The Shires.

Behind the screen

Behind the screen

The Laheys' legacy

The Laheys' legacy