Painter and caricaturist, was born in Adelaide on 28 June 1871, son of William Pole, a tailor, and Clara, née Key (who changed her first name to Sarah when she adopted Judaism). Leon, known as Sonny, had three sisters, Florence, Esther and Rebecca (1877-92). The family moved to Melbourne in 1879; his father died the following year. By 1888 Mrs Sarah Pole was living at 98 La Trobe Street East, Melbourne. Pole enrolled at the National Gallery of Victoria Schools in 1888, where he studied until at least 1892. However, William Moore, in Story of Australian Art, vol.1, p.227, shows photo of the School, reputedly taken in 1896. It shows: Amy Mann, Agnes Kirkwood, George Coates, Isabel Hunter, Albert Enes (b.1876), Hugh Ramsay, James Stuart MacDonald (1878-1952), Dora Meeson, Jo Sweatman, Ada Coutle, Leon Pole, Portia Geach, George Pontin. Pole’s best-known painting, The Village Laundress (1891), was first shown in the annual student exhibition in 1891 when he won second prize of ten pounds for it. Since then, it has been widely reproduced.

While still a student Pole joined Streeton , Conder and Roberts at Eaglemont, where he played the whistle and drank 'a little too much Golden Summer, as he calls wine, which was not improving him’, said Streeton (see Croll, Smike to Bulldog and Astbury, Sunlight and Shadow ). In September 1890 Charterisville was let to Walter Withers and lodges in the garden let at half a crown a week. Among the first tenants were Hal Waugh , Arthur Bassett (1869-c.1960) and Leon Pole who remained there for two or three years. Sands & MacDougall’s Melbourne directory for 1893 includes 'L. Pole’, signwriter of 21 Elizabeth Chambers, Elizabeth Street, West Melbourne; that for 1894 notes the partnership of Leon Pole and Harry Recknell in a signwriting and decorating business at 163 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne (with Leon Pole also listed at Yarra Street, Heidelberg). In 1893 Pole was renting the entire top floor of the North Melbourne Town Hall with George Coates , James Quinn and Louis Kny for 10/6 a week, according to Lionel Lindsay . (Coates taught and the others slept there.)

Coates also had a studio with Lionel Lindsay and Hugh McLean over Peppas’s fruit shop in Swanston Street, and the three slept in 2 attic bedrooms above. In 1893 they founded the Cannibals Club there, subsequent meetings being held in studios in the St James Building, William Street. The original members were Coates, Pole, Lionel Lindsay (who had moved to Melbourne that year), Percy Lindsay , Hugh McLean, Alex Sass , George Regan, Miles Evergood and Herman Kuhr. They were later joined by Norman Lindsay , Max Meldrum , Will Dyson , Hugh McCrae, Ernest Moffitt , Carl Archibald, Harry Weston , Jack Kilgour and others. A few of the same artists (presumably the Jews) also belonged to the Ishmael Club. Sonny and his piccolo were the life and soul of any party, especially as he also did lightning caricatures, the best, said Percy Lindsay, that he had ever seen (see Lionel Lindsay, Comedy of Life , for further references to Pole’s bohemian existence).

At a Smoke Night for the Art Society of NSW in September 1897, it was reported ( Sydney Morning Herald 13 September 1897, 3; info. Ingrid Anderson):

But to draw lightning sketches, with all the disadvantages of brown paper, in front of a gallery of critics, and gain not only a favourable verdict but a storm of cheers – that is something of which to be proud; and so Messrs A.R. Coffey, Perry, Spence, Leon Pole, G. Taylor, and Salvana are to be complimented on that often mentioned but seldom realised event – an artistic success.

Pole also painted murals, e.g. in the Palace Theatre, Sydney (built 1896, closed 1969, demolished 1970). He moved to Sydney permanently in August 1898 and by 1899 was living at 2 Grantham Street, North Sydney (west side, off Willoughby Road). In 1900 his studio was listed as being at 155 Elizabeth Street, Sydney. In 1901-2 he was in London, where he may have been a member of the Chelsea Club. Later he moved to Canada with his wife, Esther (died aged 58, buried St John’s Norway Cemetery, Toronto on 16 December 1927). He is said to have worked in Toronto primarily as a muralist (Wm Moore), although in a postcard to his sister posted from Toronto on 1 August 1912 he noted that he was 'pretty busy at present getting ready for the annual Exhibition. I am doing some decorative panels.’ He died in Toronto on 31 December 1951, aged 80 and was also buried in St John’s Norway, Cemetery and Crematorium, 256 Kingston Road, Toronto, on 3 January 1952.

Kerr, Joan
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