Gladys Reynell (1881–1956) was one of South Australia's earliest potters and is known for her bold modernist style and her preference for working with native clays.
Reynell was born on 4 September 1881 in Glenelg, a suburb of Adelaide, Australia. She was the third of the five children of well-to-do land agent and wine-grape grower Walter Reynell and his wife Emily (née Bakewell). She was the granddaughter of John Reynell, who is thought to have established the first commercial winery in South Australia, and the cousin of suffragist Elizabeth Webb Nicholls. Walter Reynell had inherited his father's large estate, and it was there that Gladys grew up and was home-schooled, before matriculating at Tormore House School in North Adelaide.
Gladys Reynell initially studied medicine at the University of Adelaide but left to study art. By 1903, she had joined the School of Design's Art Club in Adelaide and that same year she exhibited work at the South Australian Society of Arts' annual show. In 1907, the painters Margaret Preston and Bessie Davidson established their own studio where they offered classes, and Reynell began studying painting there with Preston, who was to become a close friend.
In 1912, Reynell and Preston traveled to Paris, where they stayed for a year before moving on to London and Ireland. Their plans were derailed by the outbreak of World War I and by the death of Reynell's younger brother Carew at Gallipoli in 1915. The following year, at the instigation of her surviving brother Rupert, Reynell (and Preston) began to learn pottery at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London, with the goal of teaching it to disabled soldiers. The earliest surviving pieces of Reynell's pottery date from this period, and she had already begun to manifest an interest in using clay from her native land by having a sample of clay from Kangaroo Island sent to her in London.
In 1918, towards the end of the war, Reynell and Preston began teaching pottery to soldiers at the Seale Hayne Neurological Hospital in Devon, where Rupert was a surgeon. The following year Reynell returned home when her father fell ill. He died on 8 April 1919 in Reynella, a town in South Australia that his father had established.
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