May and Herbert Gibbs Collection

Far Away May

View images from 'Away'.

Foreign Waters (Herbert Abroad)

May Gibbs' Western Australian childhood inspired her greatest success, but not before she had sampled the wider world. While her famous gumnut babies had their origins in the bush near her childhood home of Harvey, May's technique and ambition were fired by several trips abroad.

In 1900, aged 23, May travelled to England to study at the Art School of Cope and Nicol. By night she took classes at the Chelsea Polytechnic. Her art was her passion, but the gruelling study schedule forced her return to Perth in 1901. She returned twice to England, in 1904 and 1909. There she excelled in her study of black and white illustration. The hand-drawn postcards she sent home to Australia documented both her adventures in England and her progress as a fine, wry illustrator.

While abroad, May often spent time with her mother's family in Surrey. She explored the flora, houses and laneways of the English countryside, recording them in a series of watercolour paintings.




Old Cottage, Tiptree [Essex]
May Gibbs, 1905

Moonlight on the Yare
Herbert Gibbs, 1879

Wherever he was in the world, Herbert Gibbs' eye was drawn to the water. His lifelong love of boats was cultivated in England as a young child, when his father owned yachts and ran a boat business in Southampton. When Herbert moved his own family to Australia, he built his own boat - the Gadfly - and would often take the family on river excursions to paint and draw.

Like May and her youngest brother Bertie, who attended school in England, Herbert and wife Cecie occasionally made the long voyage abroad from their home in South Perth. Herbert's renderings of scenes from Durban to Belgium, Holland to England, feature the water. Headlands, ocean coves and rivers figure strongly, along with boats of all varieties.

Visiting Sydney allowed Herbert Gibbs two of his greatest pleasures - spending time with his daughter, and gazing at boats on the harbour. May relocated to Sydney in 1912 and later settled at Nutcote in Neutral
Bay with husband J.O. Kelly.