Penshurst, Victoria, Australia 1893 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1972
Study for 'Christian Waller with Baldur, Undine and Siren at Fairy Hills'
1931 or 1932 Description: Study for the head of Christian Waller
Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, graphite; paper drawing in black pencil Support: paper
Napier Waller painted this portrait of his artist wife, Christian, with her Airedale terriers in 1932. She sits on the grass in front of their recently completed Arts and Crafts–style home, situated on the banks of the Merri Creek at Fairy Hills, a picturesque enclave in suburban Melbourne. The painting, almost of mural proportions, was the centrepiece of the Wallers’ dining room, hanging over the massive fireplace.
This portrait of Christian should have been a joyous celebration of the Wallers’ working partnership, but it instead defined the moment of their emotional estrangement. The frieze-like formality of the painting and its cool, crisp colours underscore the demise of their marriage. While Napier became a man of the world, Christian retreated into an esoteric religion.
Appropriately, for an artist steeped in symbolism, Waller used the decorative form of the branches and elongated leaves of the willow tree (long associated with sadness and isolation) to frame the elements of his composition.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra