Louis always seemed to find time to sketch. At enlistment he drew himself in his new uniform, discarding his trademark checked trousers. On the troopship, he spent his time sketching his fellow soldiers onboard. Once in France, he was so inspired, he took out his watercolours and filled letters to his wife Gwendolyn with charming French farmyard scenes. He promised to bring her to France ‘apres la guerre’ (after the war).
Born Vasco Loureiro in Brixton, London, he grew up in Melbourne and studied art at the National Gallery of Victoria from 1902-1905. His father, Artur Jose Loureiro was an accomplished artist, originally from Portugal. They emigrated in 1885.
Vasco later moved to Sydney, drawing caricatures for a shilling for ferry passengers. After his Tasmanian mother Maria Huybers passed away in 1907 he sailed abroad to America, where he again used his skill to draw a face in a few simple lines on a postcard. He also travelled to Europe and Papua New Guinea retuning back to Australia before the conflicts began.
He married Gwendolyn Dunlop around the time he enlisted in Brisbane on 11 May 1916. His original typed attestation form stated he was not married and she was his ‘lady friend’. The form had been adjusted to a ‘yes’ for marriage and to his ‘trade or calling’ of ‘caricature artist’ was added ‘and draftsman’.
Vasco left Australia for Devonport, England on 11 November 1916, arriving some 80 days later on the troopship Suevic.
As part of the 11th Field Company Engineers, his responsibility included constructing the lines of defence, temporary bridges, tunnels and trenches, observation posts, roads, railways, communication lines. They were also involved in constructing buildings, showering and bathing facilities.
Louis Vasco reported sick in early May 1918 and was transferred to England where he was hospitalised at Middlesex War Hospital at St Albans, north of London. He died of disease on 3 August, 1918 and was buried at St Albans' Hatfield Road Cemetery in an area set aside for Commonwealth war graves.
Louis Vasco’s last drawing is a self-portrait dated two months before he passes away, “A study in blues, Vasco on the rocks”.
Gwendolyn Vasco, received her husband’s personal effects, including his paints, which were packaged up and sent to her in Brisbane. These items are now held in the Australian War Memorial's collection.
After a time of grieving, Gwendolyn travelled around Australia, playing her 12 string mandolin to appreciative audiences. In October 1920 she sold over 200 of Vasco's original drawings to the State Library of NSW.
Elise Edmonds, Senior Curator, Research & Discovery