Searching for patriotic souvenirs painted by Lilla Reidy in Melbourne during the first World War

Have you any “bannerettes” or “artistic pendants” from 1918 in your collection?

What about gum leaves painted as patriotic souvenirs in 1915 such as the one illustrated here?

Source: Museum Victoria / Photographer: Grace Janover / Artist: Lilla Reidy (?)

Source: Museums Victoria / Photographer: Grace Janover / Artist: Lilla Reidy (?)

On behalf of the Heidelberg Historical Society, I am researching some aspects of the life and work of Elizabeth Mary Ann (Lilla) Reidy (1858-1933), an artist who exhibited with the Victorian Artists’ Society in Melbourne from 1895 to 1910.

Thanks to the digitised newspapers project at the National Library of Australia, I have found some fascinating articles about Reidy’s voluntary fundraising efforts during WW1 on behalf of the war effort.

Reidy contributed to the 1915 Australia Day (30 July) Sick and Wounded Appeal initiated by Lady Margaret Stanley, first President of the Australian Red Cross, Victoria, and wife of the Victorian Governor:

Miss Lilla Reidy used her artistic gifts in gum-leaf designs, showing a soldier’s head silhouetted in khaki, and a Red Cross flag. One thousand of these artistic emblems were sold.

Source: 1915 ‘Australia Day Helpers.’,
Weekly Times (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 7 August, p. 9,
viewed 5 January 2014

Some of those painted gum leaves may have survived thanks to the RSL – see Museums Victoria’s registered items ST 42395 and ST 42397, and perhaps also ST 42396.

Several Australian artists also painted on gum leaves for the war effort and for other purposes, as discussed in this March 2012 article about the works in the collection of the National Library of Australia.  Frederick McCubbin painted landscapes rather than soldiers on his leaves – see this example, exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia in 2009 (and see the accompanying notes from his daughter who contrasts the larger leaves McCubbin painted with the smaller gum leaves that were painted during ‘big working bees at our home in South Yarra’ for sale in Melbourne in 1915 for about sixpence (5 cents), with red, white and blue ribbon attached).

Do any painted gum leaves depicting a soldier (or a soldier’s head) and a red cross survive in your collection? If so, they might have been painted by Lilla Reidy, or under guidance from her.

Another account of Reidy’s work comes from ‘The Ladies Letter’, a column in the Melbourne Punch, penned by ‘Clio’ in 1918.

Previous to Anzac Day, a band of thirty women artists, under the presidency of Miss Lilla Reidy, used to meet regularly, making small bannerettes of white calico on which were painted emblems and battalion colours, by the subsequent sale of which they raised £4000 for soldiers’ funds. Since then Miss Reidy has carried on the work alone—in a well-lighted room at the back of the Returned Soldiers’ Association rooms—in a more elaborate form. On watered silk she paints the name, battalion, and colours of soldiers, with their number in a laurel wreath of gold, and a sprig of gum blossom added to the design to give it the typical Australian touch. They can be purchased unframed, or enclosed in a narrow gold frame, and are beautifully artistic pendants to hang beneath the photos of soldiers. Miss Reidy is at the studio all day, and every day, voluntarily giving up the whole of her time and skill to this labour of love for soldiers’ womenfolk, for the proceeds go to a fund for helping soldiers’ widows and children. Soldiers’ sweethearts, who have ordered them, have strikingly used them as panels on watered silk bags. To see is instantly to desire one, so go and have a look at them.

Source: 1918 ‘THE LADIES LETTER.’,
Punch (Melbourne, Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 6 June, p. 32,
viewed 19 December 2013

I do not recall having seen anything in museums or galleries across Victoria that matches these descriptions of “bannerettes” or “artistic pendants”, yet they don’t sound like the sort of item that would be discarded lightly.

I wonder if any have survived but without an understanding of their origins or meaning?

This year is the centenary of the Red Cross in Australia, and also of the start of World War 1. Increased attention is being paid to objects and collections from that period. Will some of the items painted by Lilla Reidy and her friends be discovered in museums or private collections?

Please contact me with news of any textiles or painted leaves you discover that might match the evocative accounts of Lilla Reidy’s work. All contributions will of course be acknowledged.

Margaret Birtley
5 January 2014
(Image added on 11 March 2014; text and web links revised 13 December 2017)


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The text of ‘Searching for patriotic souvenirs painted by Lilla Reidy in Melbourne during the first World War’ by Margaret Birtley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Museum Victoria holds copyright in the image of the painted gum leaf and has approved its publication on this webpage.