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Max MELDRUM, Poland (Madame de Tarczynska) REDUCE 1/1


Australian Art
Expatriates, Federation Landscapes & Symbolism gallery

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27 Oxford Street, Edinburgh, Scotland 1875 – 24 Belmont Ave, Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1955

  • Movements: Australia 1889-1900
  • France 1900-13
  • Australia from 1913
  • USA, Europe 1931

Poland (Madame de Tarczynska)
[Polonaise (exhibited under this title in 1920) Portrait of Madame de Tarczynska in Polish costume [reproduced A in A 1917]] 1917 oil on canvas mounted on composition board oil on canvas mounted on composition board
154.4 h x 89.2 w cm
Purchased 1980
Accession No: NGA 80.1089

  • In this painting Max Meldrum depicted Madame de Tarczynska in Polish national costume. Through vigorous brushstrokes, pure bright colours and strong tonal contrasts he produced a lively image of a woman. For Meldrum, however, the human subject was of less importance than the act of painting itself. He used his broad brushstrokes to present the form of his subject as it is defined by light and shade. He was interested in applying his bold colour against a characteristically sombre background to record visual appearance.

    A Scottish-born artist, Meldrum came to Australia in 1889. After a long period of study in Europe he returned to Melbourne in 1913. He developed a narrow theory of painting, claiming it was a pure science of optical analysis and that tone, contrasting light and dark, was the most important component. He believed that there were no lines in nature and that drawing should be dispensed with. Fortunately, his own strongly tonalist paintings are more convincing than his theory. He had a number of disciples who followed his ideas, but he remained a figure of controversy, as he was uncompromising in the advocacy of his views.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • Jadwiga de Tarczynska (neé Kilbach) arrived in Australia in 1912, on holiday with her close friend, concert violinist Stanislaw de Tarczynski. Jadwiga and Stanislaw married in Melbourne in early 1913. The outbreak of the war prevented their return to Europe and reluctantly they exchanged their tourist visas to become immigrants.

    The young couple quickly emerged as active members of the Melbourne arts and cultural community; Stanislaw performed in Melbourne theatres, Jadwiga took up language teaching, and their grand Mont Albert residence became a cultural hub.

    In Poland (Madame de Tarczynska), Jadwiga is depicted in a costume from the Kraków region, its embroidered lace-up vest, long colourful ribbons, lace apron and cap later becoming the most recognised of all historical Polish costumes. She was dressed for one of many Polish Day celebrations the couple hosted at their home when Max Meldrum caught a glimpse of her. They had formed a close friendship with the outspoken Scottish-born artist, who was inspired to capture the vibrancy of her attire. Meldrum noted at the time that the portrait would have to be a sprint, an impression filled with nervous energy, as the ribbons might move at a second sitting.[1]

    The human subject for Meldrum was less important than the act of painting. His broad, energetically applied brushstrokes quickly captured the light and shade of his subject, yet he paid minimal attention to facial expression. He produced a lively image with pure bright colours, contrary to his characteristically muted tonal palette, hoping it might silence criticism of his works as unfashionable and gloomy.

    Meldrum came to Australia with his family in 1889, settling in Melbourne. After a long period of study and residence in Europe (1900–13) he returned to Australia, imbued with passion and ideas. He developed a theory of painting claiming it was a pure science of optical analysis. He believed tone (contrasting light and dark) to be the most important component of painting, and that it would provide the ultimate truth in representing nature. His Melbourne school of painting, established in 1917, soon proved popular but Meldrum attracted controversy throughout his career.

    Madame de Tarczynska never owned the portrait. After being exhibited in Melbourne in 1922, the painting was displayed in the Meldrum family home until its acquisition by the National Gallery of Australia in 1980.

    Miriam Kelly

    [1] From a record of a conversation between Daniel Thomas and Meldrum’s daughters, on the National Gallery of Australia artist’s file, in which the daughters recalled their father’s response at the time, NGA file 74/49/08.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010