painter and teacher, trained as a painter in Paris then taught art in various Parisian schools. She exhibited in the Salon in 1878, 1879 and 1881. Then she was inspired to emigrate after attending a geographical conference on Australia in Paris. She arrived at Melbourne in 1881 with her husband Nicholas Emile and her unmarried sister, Marie Lion, a miniature painter and novelist who published as 'Noel Aimir’, an anagram of her name (a Melbourne edition of Marie’s novel, The Black Pearl , was published in 1911). While Nicholas worked for the French consulate, Madame Mouchette taught art from her studio in Collins Street. In 1885 her 'portrait in oils from nature’ was exhibited in an art exhibition at Launceston, Tasmania, organised by Monsieur Maurice (mainly of his pupils’ work), evidently a Parisian colleague ( Examiner 18 December 1885).

Berthe’s husband died on 10 October 1884. The following year she purchased the Oberwyl Ladies’ College in Burnett Street, St Kilda, founded by the Swiss-born Madame Elise Pfund in 1867. Initially, the enterprise was most successful and when Oscar Comettant visited Oberwyl in 1888 he was overwhelmed:

I do not think that anywhere in Europe there is an institution for young ladies that is better organised or more wisely directed… Every year more stress was put upon the teaching of our language [French]... our literature, our arts and our history… the young Australians of St Kilda were formed in our habits of elegance without losing their native charm…When I left Melbourne the institution had more than a hundred pupils and twenty-seven teachers.

Mouchette’s encouragement of the arts included a student-produced magazine, the Oberwylian , visits to exhibitions, theatre and concerts in town, and music, needlework, drawing and painting classes. At her studio she took students from outside the school for art classes, including Isa Rielly and 'Miss Macpherson’ (attributed to Rose McPherson, the future Margaret Preston , however, this has been questioned; nevertheless, Rose McPherson and Mouchette would later have studios in the same Adelaide building). In 1886 she showed an oil view of Oberwyl and a portrait of her late husband in the Victoria Court at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London, along with a collection of work by her pupils that included sculpture, drawings, oil and watercolour paintings and 'Imitation Tapestry’. The Victorian Alliance Fran├žaise, founded by Berthe and Marie, first met at Oberwyl. Berthe’s work as an artist and educator was acknowledged in 1889 with an order of the Palmes Academiques.

On 25 July 1892, however, the sisters auctioned their collection of paintings, etchings, prints and teaching illustrations and moved to Adelaide. The following year they were both exhibiting members of the South Australian Society of Arts. In Adelaide Mouchette founded another branch of the Alliance Fran├žaise and was associated with the Theosophical Society. Her life-size oil portrait of the latter’s second international president, Annie Besant (SA Theosophical Society), was shown at the 1907 Women’s Work exhibition in Melbourne and at the preliminary exhibition in Sydney.

From 1906 to 1910 Berthe had a studio in the Adelaide Steamship Building, 57 Currie Street; in 1916-19 it was in the National Bank Chambers, King William Street. By 1909 the sisters were advertising drawing lessons in the Strathalbyn Southern Argus . They taught French at Tormore House and worked as governesses for various South Australian families. Shirley Cameron Wilson mentions that Miss Lyndall Bonnear, who knew them as a child, was spellbound by their large floral hats and colourful flowing gowns. Always carefully preserving their pure Parisian accents, they were piqued to be called 'those Australian ladies’ when they returned home. Berthe died at Breteuil sur Iton in Normandy on 20 June 1928.

Extant paintings include The Queen’s Bouquet (1891, National Gallery of Victoria), Portrait of Lucinda Gullet (private collection [p.c.]) and Portrait of Patience and Catherine Hawker (1907, p.c.), presumably both her pupils. The latter shows that she used photography for her portraits.

Writers:
Kerr, Joan
Date written:
1995
Last updated:
1992