A contemporary of Charles Conder and Margaret Preston, painter George Coates ran a drawing studio in Melbourne before leaving for Europe and further study in 1897. Despite never being an official war artist, Coates's painting, depicting his experiences as a hospital orderly in London during WW1, is held in the collection of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Coates was married to fellow artist Dora Meeson.
Australian painter George Coates was born on 9 August 1869 at Emerald Hill, Melbourne, son of a bookbinder and his Irish-born wife. In 1884, he was apprenticed to the stained-glass firm, Ferguson and Urie, where he worked for seven years. He studied art at the North Melbourne School of Design, and was a part-time student from 1886 to 1896 at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, where he became one of the school’s best draughtsmen. Fellow students included Margaret Preston (Rose McPherson), Dora Meeson , Max Meldrum, James Quinn and Hugh Ramsay.From 1895 to 1896, Coates ran a drawing class in his Swanston Street studio, where his students included George Bell . He travelled to Europe in 1897 on a National Gallery Travelling Scholarship. He studied in Paris at the Académie Julian, where Meeson was a fellow student and James Quinn was a friend. In 1900, Coates moved to England where he became known principally as a portrait painter. In 1903, he married Meeson. About 1906, they rented Augustus John’s studio at 9 Trafalgar Studios, Chelsea, where Ambrose and Mary McEvoy were neighbours. As a source of income, Coates produced black-and-white illustrations for H.S. Williams’ Historians’ history of the world and the Encyclopaedia Britannica .Coates and Meeson supported the suffrage movement. During the First World War, Coates was an orderly at the 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth, alongside C.R.W Nevinson, Tom Roberts , Arthur Streeton , and Francis Derwent Wood. His paintings Casualty clearing station 1920 (Australian War Memorial, Canberra), effectively conveys the emotional drama of war that he experienced while working in the hospital.In December 1921 Coates visited Australia, returning to England in 1922. After his return to England, he worked on further commissions for large historical paintings from the Australian War Records Section. An assiduous, even obsessive painter, he remained faithful to his essentially representative approach. George Coates died suddenly of a stroke on 27 July 1930, aged 60.
Gray, Dr Anne Note: Head of Australian Art, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT