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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Carter, Norman St Clair (1875–1963)

by Frances Lindsay

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

Norman St Clair Carter (1875-1963), portrait-painter and stained-glass artist was born on 30 June 1875 at Kew, Melbourne, third son of English-born parents Harold Richard Carter, grain merchant, and his wife Janet, née Morrow. His brothers Bryce and Frank became musicians. Norman completed his education at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1888-90, leaving when his father's business was hit by the depression. He had a succession of jobs which included training with 'Kalizoic' decorators, and in 1890-94 was apprenticed to a stained-glass maker. While selling artists' supplies by day, he attended Frederick McCubbin's and L. Bernard Hall's evening classes at the National Gallery School, and later, helped by a small allowance from his father, studied under E. Phillips Fox.

With his close friend Hugh McCrae, Carter moved to Sydney in 1903, set up a city studio and joined the Royal Art Society of New South Wales where he was an instructor until 1916. He also worked as a freelance commercial artist and contributed to the Bulletin and Sydney Mail. Later he moved his studio to Hunter Street, then Vickery's Chambers, although he lived at Wollstonecraft. Invited to join the Society of Artists by S. Ure Smith, he became a vice-president in 1926. He lectured at the Sydney Technical College in 1915-40 and on freehand drawing in the department of architecture, University of Sydney, in 1922-47. He 'always liked teaching' and found it 'useful as a form of ballast to one's income'. He came to regard 'contemporary art' as a 'fungoid growth' and in 1937 was a founder of the short-lived Australian Academy of Art.

Although Carter never travelled overseas, he was encouraged by Fox and Rupert Bunny to exhibit in Europe and was awarded a bronze at the 1913 Salon des Artistes Française (Paris Salon) for his portrait of Florence Rodway, entitled 'Portrait of Mlle X'; it was hung next year at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. An extremely competent and fashionable portraitist, he painted fellow-artists, governors, judges, professors, and other notables such as (Sir) P. Gordon Taylor, and Peter Board. His portraits of prime ministers Sir Edmund Barton and W. M. Hughes are in Parliament House, Canberra. Carter always tried to make his subject talk so he could 'see him in different expressions'. His early tonalist works reveal the influences of Hall and Max Meldrum.

Carter also found making stained-glass windows 'remunerative' and after World War I received commissions for memorial windows such as those in St Stephen's Church, Sydney, the 'Warriors' Chapel' in All Saints Cathedral, Bathurst, and the Teachers' College, Armidale; other major works include the north clerestory windows in St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney. He also enjoyed painting such murals as those in the philosophy lecture room, University of Sydney (1921), the Rural Bank of New South Wales, Martin Place, Sydney (1938), and the Maritime Services Board (1952). A lover of nature, at weekends he painted landscapes for a change and occasionally exhibited them. A retrospective exhibition was held at the Blaxland Gallery in 1959. His later works were more high-keyed in colour and reveal the influence of mural design.

Carter died on 18 September 1963 at Gordon and was buried in the Anglican section of Northern Suburbs cemetery. Predeceased by his wife Ruby Eva, née Burnell, whom he had married at Toowoomba, Queensland, on 3 November 1908, he was survived by two sons and three daughters. His estate was sworn for probate at £2337. A self-portrait is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • Bernard Smith, Australian Painting 1788-1960 (Melb, 1962)
  • Salon, 1912, no 1, 1913, no 2, 1914, no 2
  • Art in Australia, 1916, no 1
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 9 May 1914
  • Bulletin, 9 Oct 1919
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 1921, 9 Jan, 9 July 1925, 30 June 1931, 10 Mar 1937, 19 Sept 1963
  • Sun (Sydney), 23 May 1922, 25 Mar 1959
  • Sunday Times (Sydney), 28 May 1922
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 3 June 1922
  • H. Carter, letter to M. Carter 28 Feb 1977 (Art Gallery of New South Wales)
  • N. St C. Carter letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • S. A. Howard letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • S. Ure Smith papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • uncatalogued manuscripts, set 471 (ML).

Citation details

Frances Lindsay, 'Carter, Norman St Clair (1875–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 25 October 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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