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Percy Leason

1889 – 1959

Percy Leason, artist, illustrator and cartoonist, grew up in Victoria's Wimmera region and trained in the rudiments of art in Nhill. In 1907 he was apprenticed to the Melbourne printers Sands & McDougall as a lithographic artist. There he met Richard McCann, with whom he attended evening classes at the NGV school in the evenings; together, they produced the poster for Carlton Breweries, 'I allus has one at eleven'. In 1911 Leason set up an art studio with McCann, William Frater and others, making a precarious living through book illustration and commissions. In 1917 he moved to Sydney to take up a contract with the publishers Smith & Julius. Successful book illustration and inclusion in the 1918 Society of Artists exhibition brought him to the attention of artist and teacher Julian Rossi Ashton; both Ashton and the Art Gallery of New South Wales acquired his work and he soon took the place of political cartoonist David Low at the Bulletin. He worked stably as an illustrator, cartoonist and artist until 1924, when perturbed by the 'new wave' of Modernism sweeping Sydney, he sought solace in Melbourne. There, he was introduced to Max Meldrum, who espoused a theory of tonal objective painting which accorded with his own views. The men's relationship, at times tinged by professional jealousy, was of considerable benefit to both in the formulation of their respective and at times mutual tenets of painting. Upon Leason's return to Sydney, Keith Murdoch offered him a contract cartooning for Punch, based in Melbourne. Henceforth Australia's highest-paid cartoonist, he built a home in Eltham which became a hub for Melbourne artists, writers and performers. When Punch was absorbed into the society journal Table Talk in 1925, Leason continued to provide cartoons for it as well as the Bulletin. His 'Wiregrass' cartoon, illustrating humorous aspects of life in a fictitious country town, appeared in Table Talk from 1926 to 1937.

In 1929 Leason provided illustrations and a model of a rock shelter containing Aboriginal paintings for the National Museum of Victoria's Aboriginal Art Exhibition. Through his role in the exhibition he met anthropologist Donald Thomson, and in 1934, on a field trip with Thomson and other colleagues, he completed twenty-eight portraits of Aboriginal people from Lake Tyers.

In 1938 Leason moved to the USA and settled in Staten Island, where he exhibited and became President of the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences. At his art school, the Modern Perceptual School of Painting, he, his wife and daughter conducted virtually round-the-clock art classes for the community in realist tonal painting. The school continued in various guises until 1955. During these years Leason undertook many commissions, and he won the Audubon Society's Hollander Prize in 1945. He joined the artists' society the Salmagundi Club, and became an elected member of the Royal Art Society in London. Having continued to illustrate, teach and exhibit throughout the 1950s, in 1957 he travelled to Europe for the first time, to view cave art. He published his observations on cave paintings in the journals of the British Medical Association and the Staten Island Institute; plaster models and drawings from tracings he made in France are in the State Library of Victoria.

Updated 2018