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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Auld, James Muir (1879–1942)

by Bernice Murphy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

James Muir Auld (1879-1942), artist, was born on 19 June 1879 at Ashfield, New South Wales, third son of Rev. John Auld, Presbyterian minister, and his wife Georgina, née Muir. He was educated at Ashfield Public School and at Sydney Grammar School. While employed as a clerk by the Ashfield Borough Council he enrolled in night classes in drawing at Ashfield Technical School and spent much of his spare time drawing and sketching the foreshores of Sydney Harbour. He resigned in 1907 to become a professional artist, and studied with J. S. Watkins; later he joined Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School.

About 1906 J. Muir Auld (as he signed his works) began to show oils at the annual Royal Art Society of New South Wales exhibitions, but he first became known in Sydney as a black and white artist, contributing regularly to the Sydney Mail and the Bulletin. In 1909 he visited England to study the work of English painters, particularly Constable and Wilson Steer, and precariously supported himself by pen-and-ink drawings for magazines such as London Opinion.

About 1911 Auld returned to Australia and in 1918 settled at Dee Why near fellow artists Roland Wakelin and Lawson Balfour in an environment suited to Post-Impressionist plein air painting. On 1 July 1914 Auld had married with Presbyterian rites a divorcee Maggie Kate Kane, née Bell. That year he completed his earliest securely-dated oil, a portrait of 'Thelma', his step-daughter. Besides landscapes, he painted some subject pictures and portraits: 'The Broken Vase' and a portrait of the poet Roderic Quinn were bought early by the National Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Auld exhibited frequently with the Society of Artists, Sydney, of which he was a member. In the 1920s he joined the well-known commercial art firm, Smith & Julius, and illustrated several books. In 1931 he moved to Thirlmere, south-west of Sydney, where he spent the rest of his life alone—eschewing even a radio in his small cottage. Here, however, according to Wakelin, he painted the best of his landscapes, achieving 'a deeper penetration into the mysteries of light and shade'. He was awarded the 1935 Wynne Prize for 'Winter Morning', a study of trees and sky which had 'a stimulating sense of wind, and flying cloud' and showed the artist's partial adoption of the palette knife. Auld had three one-man exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries, Sydney, in 1928, 1936 and 1938, and had also exhibited in London and Paris. He was a foundation member of the Australian Academy of Art in 1938.

Auld died of tuberculosis on 8 June 1942 in Camden District Hospital. His estate was valued for administration at £52. In December the National Art Gallery of New South Wales held a memorial exhibition. Self-portraits are in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales; he is also represented in public collections in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Armidale and Manly.

Select Bibliography

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Loan Memorial Exhibition of Pictures by J. Muir Auld (Syd, 1942), and A Catalogue of Australian Oil Paintings in the National Art Gallery of New South Wales 1875-1952 (Syd, 1953)
  • Society of Artists Book (Syd, 1942)
  • Art in Australia, 3 (1917).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Bernice Murphy, 'Auld, James Muir (1879–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 25 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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