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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lawlor, Adrian (1889–1969)

by Gavin Fry

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Adrian Lawlor (1889-1969), painter, writer and critic, was born on 30 August 1889 in London, son of Andrew Lawlor, butler and later farmer, and his wife Margaret, née McIntosh. Christened Andrew, he changed his name to Adrian when a youth. He was educated at a private school in Surrey and in 1910, after the death of his mother, migrated to Australia with one of his two younger sisters. On 9 May 1916 at a civil ceremony in Melbourne he married Eva Nodrum, twenty years his senior and a member of the family leather business of Charles Nodrum & Co. for which Lawlor was to work for many years as clerk and leather sorter. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force six months after his marriage, Lawlor served on the Western Front as a private in the 21st Battalion. On his return in 1919 he moved with his wife to Broom Warren, a cottage at Warrandyte where they spent the next thirty years.

In 1921 Lawlor began writing literary articles, poetry and stories which were published in a variety of journals including the Bulletin, Vision and New Triad. Having achieved some minor success as a writer, he took up painting in 1929 and after brief periods of study at the National Gallery School and with Alexander Colquhoun embarked on a vigorous and prolific decade as an artist. Under the guidance of Arnold Shore, George Bell and William Frater he moved rapidly into prominence among Melbourne modernist artists. In 1930-40 he held eight one-man exhibitions and showed over 500 works.

Lawlor and Bell strongly resisted the proposal to form an Australian Academy of Art in 1937 and next year set up the opposing Contemporary Art Society with Lawlor as secretary. His book, Arquebus (1937), and pamphlet, Eliminations (1939), dealt brilliantly with the controversy. He was a guide lecturer at the 1939 Herald Exhibition of French and British Contemporary Art and spoke on art at public meetings. After a relatively unsuccessful exhibition in 1940, following the destruction of his house and nearly all his paintings in the 1939 bushfires, he gave up painting and concentrated on criticism for the Melbourne Sun and Art in Australia; he continued with his regular Australian Broadcasting Commission session 'Art Front' (after 1945 'Art Review') in which he championed the cause of progressive art and culture.

Lawlor's semi-autobiographical novel, Horned Capon, was privately published in 1950. His wife died in 1953 and on 6 March 1954 he married a librarian, Margaret Sweatman. The marriage soon ended in divorce and in 1955-65 Lawlor lived as a semi-recluse at St Kilda, supported by a war service pension. In 1966 he assembled his remaining paintings and held a retrospective exhibition at the Argus Galleries, Melbourne.

Childless, Lawlor died at Heidelberg on 6 September 1969 and was cremated. His paintings are represented in the State galleries of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia and in the National Gallery of Australia where there is also a portrait of Lawlor by Albert Tucker. A major exhibition of his work was held at Heide Park and Art Gallery, Melbourne, in 1983.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Smith, Australian Painting 1788-1970 (Melb, 1971)
  • G. Fry, Adrian Lawlor, a Portrait (Melb, 1983)
  • Adrian Lawlor papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • Contemporary Art Society records (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Gavin Fry, 'Lawlor, Adrian (1889–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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