Florence Fuller's artistic talents were such that she was able to give up her job as a governess and open her own studio before the age of 20. Indeed, she became renowned for her portraits, exhibiting widely over many years in Australia and Europe. She lived in a number of places in Australia, as well as in South Africa, France, England and India before finally settling in Mosman, NSW.
painter and art teacher, was born at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, elder daughter of John Hobson Fuller. The family came to Melbourne when she was a child. In 1883 she spent a year at the National Gallery School and in 1888, a term. She also had lessons from Jane Sutherland , who perhaps inspired her interest in Theosophy, which greatly influenced her life and art. In 1884-86, while working part-time as a governess, she studied with her uncle, Robert Dowling . Florence was immensely industrious: 'Before breakfast she devoted herself to anatomy, and worked out perspective problems in spare minutes during the day’, a journalist stated in 1891. When Dowling returned to England in 1886, Fuller gave up governessing and opened her own studio in Melbourne. There she completed Dowling’s portrait of Lady Loch, the Governor’s wife, who became a patron. She adopted a broader style after a few months’ tuition from a French painter in a neighbouring studio, M. de la Crouée, who also allowed her to work from his models ('his wife often coming to sit with me’, she told an interviewer to prove her respectability).
Fuller’s pair of Melbourne street urchins painted in 1888, Weary and Desolate , were sold direct from the studio. At the first exhibition of the Victorian Artists’ Society (VAS) in 1889, she won the prize for the best portrait painted by an artist under 25; at the second, her Gently Reproachful was purchased by Lady Clarke. All were basically portraits, for which she became renowned. Inseparables (c.1900, AGSA), for example, depicts a young girl and her book. In 1891 she moved her studio to her parents’ home in Pine Grove, Malvern, and in March held an exhibition there.
In November 1892 Fuller travelled to the Cape of Good Hope to convalesce, evidently with her married sister, Chrissie. She moved on to France and England in 1894 and remained there for ten years, apart from another trip to South Africa in 1899 when she painted a portrait of Cecil Rhodes, having painted a view of his home on her previous visit. She studied at Julian’s in 1894-1901 and exhibited at the Paris Salon (1896, 1897), the Royal Academy (1897, 1904), the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and the Manchester City Art Gallery. Paintings sent to Australia were exhibited in Jane Sutherland’s studio in 1896 and regularly shown with the VAS and the NSW Society of Artists. The latter included her work in its album of watercolours presented to the Duke and Duchess of York in 1901 (ML), while the VAS sent six of her paintings to the 1902-3 Federal International Exhibition in Melbourne.
Fuller lived in Perth in 1904-9, painting portraits, exhibiting with the Society of Arts and teaching art; notable pupils were Kathleen O’Connor and Daisy Rossi . The WA Gallery acquired two oils: Sand Pies (1903) and Early Morning (c.1905). She sent ten paintings to the 1907 Women’s Work Exhibition at Melbourne. Like Bessie Rischbieth she was an active member of the Perth Theosophical Society, being secretary, treasurer and librarian and making her studio available for meetings in 1906. In 1909-11 she stayed at the Theosophists’ Calcutta headquarters, Adyar, then revisited England with 'a little Indian girl – a Hindu of Brahmin caste’ – whom she sent to school so she could return and educate her sisters. Later that year Fuller returned to NSW and settled in Mosman where she mainly painted miniatures until the onset of mental illness. She died in the Gladesville Mental Asylum on 17 July 1946 and was buried in Rookwood Cemetery, NSW.