painter, miniaturist, monotype printer, leatherworker and pyrographer, was born in Newbury, England on 11 May 1880, legitimate daughter of Henry Edwell (and half-sister of Mary Edwards ). She came to Sydney with her family as a child. On a trip to Tasmania she joined an inspiring sketching class held by Louisa Swan (1860-1955), then studied in Sydney with Henry Fullwood and at night classes with Frank Mahony at the Royal Art Society c.1899-1900. From 1899, when sharing a flat with Madge Darby, she exhibited with the Art Society. Later she spent 16 months in Paris studying at Colarossi’s and with Del├ęcluse, sharing a flat with Bertha Merfield and another friend. She began to produce miniature portrait paintings; two were shown at the Old Salon.

Back at Sydney in 1904, Edwell established a reputation as a miniaturist, craftworker and painter of small landscapes. In 1907 she won first prize for her miniatures – ones previously shown in Paris – at the Women’s Work Exhibition at Melbourne. One was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the other by Lady Northcote (the exhibition’s patron). Two oil landscapes, A Bit of Bowral (5 gns) and At Long Bay (6 gns), were also shown in the 1907 preliminary Sydney show. In 1908 she was included with four other women painters in an exhibition at Bradley’s Rooms, Sydney. D.H. Souter’s review, 'Some Women Artists – Mainly of New South Wales’, is illustrated with Edwell’s rather stilted portrait sketches of Sydney colleagues in the show: Emily Meston , Ethel Stephens and Alice Norton (the portraits of the Victorian Violet Teague and of Edwell herself are unsigned). She was a founding Council member and on the exhibition committee of the NSW Society of Women Painters and in 1910 showed oil landscapes and miniatures at its first exhibition, her address being Percival Road, Stanmore. The inaugural meeting of the Sydney Society of Women Painters (1910) elected as office bearers: Lady Chelmsford, president; Aline Cusack , vice-president; Emily Meston , Hon Treasurer; Lilian Chauvel , Hon Sec.; Bernice Edwell, Mrs R. W. Parsons , Jane Price , Florence Rodway and Gertrude Williams , council; Edith Cusack , Miss Charlie Davis, Miss Bernice Edwell, Emily Meston, Alice Norton , Jane Price and Florence Rodway, exhibition committee; Miss Plummer and Miss Dorothy Stephen auditors. The first exhibition was held from 20 July to 13 August 1910 and the catalogue lists 57 women (Philp), including Bernice Edwell of Percival Road, Stanmore, who showed 'Views (oils) and Miniatures’.

Edwell exhibited with the Society of Arts & Crafts of NSW in 1908-12. The trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW purchased her Blotter with Flamingo Design and her Block Cover with Landscape Design in hand-tooled leather from the Society’s 1910 exhibition and her unusual Japanese-influenced Twine Box with Prawn Design , also in leather, from the 1912 show. In 1914 and 1920 she exhibited miniatures in Adelaide. She held many solo exhibitions in Melbourne between 1915 and 1934, mostly at the Athenaeum Gallery although in 1918 she held an exhibition in her studio at South Yarra. In 1921 she exhibited at Miss McLean’s rooms in Melbourne and at Gayfield Shaw 's Gallery in Sydney, at the latter with Thea Proctor and Blamire Young . By 1923, when she shared an exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery with A.M.E. Bale and Jo Sweatman , she was living in Melbourne permanently. The National Gallery of Victoria purchased two of her miniatures, which had been shown at the Salon in 1921 and at the Royal Academy in 1923.

Writers:
Kerr, Joan
Date written:
1995
Last updated:
2011