Connection: Methodist Ladies College, 83 Walpole Street, Kew; and studio at 39 Walpole Street, Kew.
A.M.E. (Alice) Bale was born in Richmond, Melbourne. Her father was chief inspector of customs, a marine biologist and microscopist and Alice inherited from her father a scientific approach to her art. Alice’s mother was a keen collector of antiques, objects and costumes and was undoubtedly an influence on her daughter’s aesthetic sensibility.
From 1885–92 Alice attended Methodist Ladies College in Kew and excelled in music and literature. Alice had private art lessons with May Vale and Hugh Ramsay and was elected to membership of the Victorian Artists Society in 1894, where she first had a picture exhibited in 1896. From 1918–19 Alice edited the society’s journal. Alice attended the National Gallery School from 1895–1904 and became a good friend of Max Meldrum, a more senior student at the time. Alice was greatly influenced by Meldrum and his tonal theories and was a leading figure in a group known as the Twenty Melbourne Painters, which formed, as an offshoot of the Victorian Artists’ Society in 1918. Alice was first secretary of the group and maintained this position all her life. Alice also became a member of the Women’s Art Club which was later renamed the Melbourne Society of Women Painters.
In 1922 the National Gallery of Victoria acquired two flower paintings by Bale and these were described in the Year Book of Victorian Art as ‘two brilliant studies expressing at once the beauty and character of the flowers’. Bale’s flower paintings are what she has been particularly remembered for, but a review of her work in more recent times has show that she had a talent for figure painting. A particular talent of Bale’s was to deploy the standard genre picture format—the scene from everyday life—rid it of its associations with Victorian sentiment and the dramatic incident, and transform it into a contemplative study of sitters serenely engaged in a private world. (Hammond & Peers, p. 36)
Her family moved to 83 Walpole Street, Kew in 1886 and Alice lived here for the rest of her life. She did not travel or study overseas but took regular trips to a family property in Castlemaine, Victoria, where she painted the local landscape. Alice also established a studio at 39 Walpole Street. When Alice Bale died in 1955 she bequeathed a large part of her estate to the Art Foundation Trust setting up a scholarship in her name, the scholarship continues to this day.