Germany 1909 – Australia 2000
The student (Nina Christesen)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on paper on cardboard
The student is one of three portraits of Nina Christesen painted by Lina Bryans. Christesen was an important scholar of Russian languages and culture, the founder and head for 30 years of the Department of Russian Language and Literature at the University of Melbourne and the wife of Clem Christesen, founding editor of the journal, Meanjin. The Christesens moved to Melbourne from Brisbane in 1945, relocating Meanjin to the University of Melbourne Press. They soon found themselves an important part of literary and artistic circles associated with the journal. Bryans and the painter William Frater often visited ‘Stanhope’, the Christesens’ house in Eltham, and Nina and Clem also frequented Bryans’s Darebin Bridge House where this portrait was painted.
At the time she painted the portrait, Bryans was a keen student of the works of Cézanne and Matisse. Her preoccupation with the work of the latter is seen in her use of vibrant colour, simplified forms and the domestic interior setting. In formal terms, this painting is probably her most direct and successful gesture toward early 20th-century European Modernism. In this sense, the title of the work relates equally to the experimental efforts of Bryans as to the pose of Nina reading or studying in the kitchen at Darebin Bridge House. Bryans painted another portrait of Nina in 1947, a larger and more traditional work than The student. In the second portrait, Bryans revealed more of the strength and sensitivity of the sitter than in The student, a painting in which formal concerns were uppermost.
Magda Keaney, 2002.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002