Josephine Muntz-Adams, an Australian artist, lived from 1852 to 1949. At thirty years of age, she was the first female artist to be presented in the Queensland Art Gallery’s collection.
We know that it was the mother of the artist who sat for this portrait. We also have a fairly good reason to believe that she was not as poor as the painting suggests.
In fact the portrait shows a carefully staged scene to depict a particular sentiment. It’s an allegory of Care.
The design is well balanced, with the focus on face and hands. The colours are sombre with just enough variations in tone to flesh out the figure and convey perspective and atmosphere. Every detail is precisely drawn using almost undetectable brushstrokes and layers of glazes.
The woman is reading a letter, perhaps written by her wayward son. She worries about his well being but all she can do for him is knit a pair of socks.
The white cap repeats the colour of the letter. It indicates her virtue, which is enhanced by the light in the background. This could be interpreted as her faith in God and that all will be as it is ordained.
These days, allegorical pictures, such as Care, Love, Anger, Hope etc. are not very popular. But it is an extraordinarily fine work of this genre.
I think that this portrait will withstand the test of time, even though its initial aim will be forgotten.
Portraits will always convey more than just a likeness. These days they meant to reveal the sitter’s personality, as well give the onlooker some sense of the artist’s approach to his craft. Imaginary sentiments are seldom depicted, if at all, in a modern portrait.
A typical example for this new trend is Ernestine.
Sam Fullbrook, the artist, belongs to the avant guard of modern portraiture. He is well presented in many Australian Art Galleries. The portrait of Ernestine Hill justifies the high regard in which he is held by his contemporaries.
During the 1940s and 1950s Ernestine Hill was one of Australia’s most popular writers, known for her brilliant travel writing and well researched historical romances.
Fullbrook captures her outlook on life by using his unique loose brush stroke and setting her on an almost invisible chair. She does not seem to need any props.
The design is not dissimilar to that of Care.
But Ernestine sits straight and gazes self-assuredly at the viewer. With her super-red lips, short cropped dyed hair she demonstrates her independence; though the dress and gloves are remnants of what fashion prescribed. She is totally at ease with her appearance, and seems to care little about what people might think of her.
In my opinion this second portrait is a very good example of what modern art can do.
Although the women in both pictures belong to the same age group, they represent two different eras. Perhaps, when you gaze at those two portraits, you’ll get a little glimpse of the age-old struggle of women to become equals in a male-dominated society.