Olive COTTON, Teacup ballet Enlarge 1 /1


Australia 1911 – 2003

Teacup ballet 1935 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph Edition: only known vintage print

Dimensions: printed image 37.5 h x 29.5 w cm sheet 38.3 h x 30.2 w cm backing sheet 42.5 h x 33.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1983
Accession No: NGA 83.2891

Among Cotton’s most famous photographs, Teacup ballet has very humble origins. It was taken after hours in the Dupain studio and used a set of cheap cups and saucers Cotton had earlier bought from a Woolworths store for use around the studio. As she later recounted: ‘Their angular handles suggested to me the position of “arms akimbo” and that led to the idea of a dance pattern’. The picture uses a range of formal devices that became common to Cotton’s work, especially the strong backlighting used to create dramatic tonal contrasts and shadows. The picture achieved instant success, and was selected for exhibition in the London Salon of Photography for 1935.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra