Painter and china painter, Serle was active for over 70 years in Geelong and Melbourne though she studied briefly in England. She received most critical acclaim during the 1930s and 1940s and counted George Bell, Basil Burdett and Arnold Shore as being among her admirers.
painter and china painter, was born on 2 September 1875 in South Melbourne, sixth child of Sidney Hake and his wife Charlotte, née Hemsley. Dora and her younger sister Elsie (Barlow) attended drawing classes given by Jane Sutherland at Fairelight girl’s school in about 1890. When Sutherland 'saw that we were keen about it and not just playing, she asked us to come to her class in town to draw and paint from life’. They went daily and two nights a week and were put 'on the right road from the beginning’.
Later in the 1890s, when Sutherland had to give up teaching, Dora travelled weekly 'to work at Heidelberg with Walter Withers’, who relinquished one of his school drawing classes at Malvern to his protégée. Between 1895 and 1902 she was a student at the National Gallery School under Bernard Hall and Frederick McCubbin, and an exhibiting member of the Victorian Artists’ Society from at least 1900. In 1899 she shared a studio at 187 Collins Street with Elsie.
Abroad in 1902, she was accepted for the summer term at the school run by Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes at Newlyn, on the cliffs at Land’s End, where whenever 'the weather allowed we worked outside’. In Paris she 'revelled in Manet and Monet and the other Impressionists’ and 'decided that was how I wanted to paint’. On her return home, with Withers’s help, she acquired the Geelong Art School in Little Malop Street. She lived in Geelong for most of the decade and scoured the district for subjects. Outdoor oils from this time include a view of Corio Bay, Geelong Morning (1904) and Fyans Ford , the latter one of eight works hung in the Women’s Work Exhibition in 1907. In 1908 she exhibited a 'Ceramic Specimen’ at the Arts and Crafts Society where she was later to show china painting. That year she won first and second prize and Mrs Herman Guttermann’s Gold Medal at the Ladies’ Art Association Exhibition in Ballarat, coming second to Charles Wheeler for landscape.
In 1910 she married Percival Serle. From 1915 they lived at Asolo, one of Hawthorn’s oldest houses, set in a large garden. 'Marking time’ while her three children were young, she still exhibited regularly with the 'Vics’ and in 1928 spent a year abroad visiting galleries, sketching, reaffirming her commitment to the Impressionists and reacting badly to some modern art. She exhibited with the Melbourne Society of Women Painters in 1929, was their President in 1933-34 and represented them on the National Council of Women.
In 1930 she showed watercolour and oil 'Sketches and Notes of Travel’ at the Lyceum Club, where for several years she convened the Art Circle. The Victoria Centenary retrospective exhibition in 1934 included her The Chinese Vase (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne), and she showed work with the Australian Academy of Arts. In 1936 she held a solo exhibition at Margaret McLean’s Collins Street Gallery. She was a founder-member in 1939 of the Independent Group of Artists.
Except when travelling, Dora Serle largely abandoned watercolours. In 1942 she was represented in the second annual Exhibition of New Paintings (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) by a still life and Al Fresco (University of Western Australia). The 1930s-40s was her peak period in terms of output and critical esteem, with George Bell, Basil Burdett and Arnold Shore among her admirers. She ceased to paint for a time after her husband died in 1951 but by 1954 felt equal to making her last trip abroad. Despite failing eyesight she continued to work well into her eighties – a period of over 70 years. She died on 10 September 1968.