Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

May Vale


Artist, enameller, suffragist

Personal Photo 1
May in 1890 (detail)

May Vale was a talented artist and Abbotsford resident, daughter of the prominent Vale family. Her paintings include family members and an evocative small painting called The Orchard which depicts the blooming garden at their house Mayfield. The family was close-knit, with some of the children living together until death.

May was born in Ballarat, the second of twelve children of William Mountford Kinsey Vale, stationer, and Rachel Lennox. In 1872 the family moved to Melbourne where May attended Honiton College, St Kilda. During her father's appointment to London in 1874-78, she went to school there and also attended the Royal School of Art at South Kensington. Back in Melbourne, she studied at the National Gallery School under George Folingsby and Frederick McCubbin. William Vale bought Mayfield, originally built for Georgiana McCrae, in 1886. The family attended Oxford Street Congregational Church and in 1886 May taught at the Collingwood (Female) School of Art, held at the Congregational Church hall in Peel Street, Collingwood. In 1890-92 she undertook a study tour of Italy, London and Paris. On her return May gave art lessons at Mayfield as well as making her name with regular exhibitions.

She studied in London from 1906 to 1908 and while there married a family friend and fellow Congregationalist. Alexander Gilfillan was a noted mining engineer who spent a lot of time travelling on various projects; the couple apparently spent little or no time living together. By 1907 the widowed Mrs Vale had sold Mayfield and the family moved to Pembroke, a smaller house in Nicholson Street. May lived there while exhibiting regularly in Melbourne and working at a studio in the Oxford Chambers in the city. In the 1920s and 1930s she lived in Diamond Creek in a hilltop studio known as The Hut. As well as her artistic output, she is notable as a strong fighter for the recognition of the professional standing of women artists: one of the first women to be elected a member of the Buonarotti Society, as early as 1883, and one of the first two women to be elected to the Council of the Victorian Artists' Society in 1900. She was a Foundation Member in 1898 of the Yarra Sculptors' Society, and a Councillor of this Society in 1901-1902, as well as an active member of the Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society.

Shortly before Gilfillan’s death in 1940, May moved to Black Rock to live with her brother William, sisters Elsie, Beatrice and Faith, and Faith’s husband John Collins and their children. Her work can be seen in the Castlemaine Gallery, NGV, Art Gallery of NSW, and Warrnambool Gallery.

House Photo 1

Pembroke, 39 Nicholson Street Abbotsford

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
18 November 1862 Ballarat
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Alexander Gilfillan (18??-1940) 1908, London None
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
37 Church Street Abbotsford Demolished
39 Nicholson Street Abbotsford Extant
Church Lodge
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
6 August 1945 Black Rock Cheltenham

The Argus; Fitzroy City Press; The Australasian; The Riverine Grazier; Cummings, Bitter roots, sweet fruit;

ADB May Vale

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