Person - Joan Bretton

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JOAN BRETTON (1914 - 1966)

Joan was involved with the Workers Art Club (WAC) during the presidency of George Finey who referred to her as the club's attendant and club secretary when describing an incident at 36 Pitt Street. Joan was on the roof, stepped on a skylight and fell straight through it, landing bolt upright in a large chair in the office below to the amazement of a man working there. “Are you all right?” he asked after a few minutes shocked silence. “I will be after a few brandies” responded Joan as she left for the local pub.

Johanna and Kete ("Kitty" 1912-1979) were born in Sydney, the daughters of Wilhelm and Marie Bertha Breitenberger who had migrated from Prague. Their father, a sculptor and dye mixer, knew Norman Lindsay at Springwood and both girls modelled for him. Because of anti-German sentiment during the First World War they took the surname Bretton. At the age of 16 Joan married fellow WAC art student Clive Guthrie in Rockhampton Q on 6 October 1930, but they separated soon after.

Joan and Kitty modelled for WAC art students, and Joan is said to be the central nude female figure on Rayner Hoff’s The Crucifixion of Civilisation made with the aid of his Sydney Tech students. The sculpture was never mounted on its plinth at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park because of opposition from the Catholic Church, Archbishop Sheehan asserting "a perfectly nude woman ... is revolting and immoral in a memorial like that".

In November 1933 Joan, an artist’s model, and Adrienne Parkes arrived in Melbourne after hiking for months in eastern States looking for work and stating that, if unsuccessful, they were going to walk back to Sydney. Adrienne did return, but Joan by 1936 was living in a small flat above a Melbourne restaurant and studying art at the National Gallery School (with Charles Bush, Phyl Waterhouse, Reg Preston, Phyl Dunn, Roger Kemp, Sid Nolan, Gordon Thomson and Ernest Clarke).

Joan went to London with Clifford Bayliss who won the 1937 Travelling Scholarship. They lived together for a time but separated and Joan returned to modelling. During the blitz she was a volunteer with fire watch and ambulance services, and mixed with philosophers, historians, poets and writers when the Slade School evacuated to Oxford. She began writing seriously at this time. Postwar she worked with the Allied Commission in Vienna before returning to Australia in 1948.

In 1950 Joan and Clive Guthrie finally divorced. She worked in Sydney for a while before resuming modelling at Melbourne Technical College. Here she taught the life modelling ropes to Barbara Blackman and read her books like Finnegans Wake. (In 1952 Joan won a prize for an essay on James Joyce.) Tall, lean and tanned, Joan had a voice like honey and was intolerant of fools.

In 1958 Joan married sculptor Lenton Parr, ten years her junior. She died in Victoria in 1966; Len Parr died in 2003. Kitty Bretton married Adrienne Parkes’ brother Warwick (1911-72) in 1935 at North Sydney.

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