Portland, Victoria, Australia 1864 – France 1939

  • France from 1900-06, with regular visits to England, Australia 1906, England 1906-18, France from 1918

The Parisienne c.1924 Place made: Paris, Île-de-France, Ville de Paris department, France
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Dimensions: 61.0 h x 50.1 w cm framed (overall) 758 h x 651 w x 61 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1993
Accession No: NGA 93.5
  • Paris was the place to be in the 1920s. This was especially true for adventurous artists, writers and performers, who flocked to this ‘City of light’ in the years following the First World War. Goodsir, an Australian by birth, had come to know Paris well. At the time of painting The Parisienne she was living in an apartment at 18 rue l’Odéon in Montparnasse. Sylvia Beach (1887–1962), the renowned American who established the English-language bookshop Shakespeare and Company in Paris and first published James Joyce’s Ulysses, lived in the same apartment block with her partner Adrienne Monnier (1892–1955). The sitter in The Parisienne is another American, Goodsir’s close companion Rachel Dunn, nicknamed Cherry. She had divorced and moved to Paris to be with Goodsir. The combination of propriety and a sense of adventure was integral to their lives in Paris, as it is to this gently seductive portrait.

    Cherry sat for numerous portraits by Goodsir, although many of them are more conventionally feminine and more domestic in their settings. Here Goodsir captures a sense of Parisian style, combining theatricality with elegant restraint. The sitter is placed against a muted cream background and her garments are simplified in shape and colour, giving strength to the composition. The tonal palette and delicately modulated forms recall Goodsir’s early training in contrast with modernist practices at the time. Yet a more subtle feeling of modernity pervades the sitter. Stylishly dressed in a high collared jacket with a contemporary flapper’s cloche hat she is casually holding a cigarette (perhaps the brand known as the Parisienne![1]). Smoking was considered a sign of emancipation and the rather masculine style of dress epitomised modernity in the streets, cafes, bars and theatres of the Latin Quarter in the 1920s. The sitter’s eyes are in shadow, adding to the sense of mystery, while her lips are bright cherry red. Her hands are relaxed with each bearing the glint of a ring, perhaps indicating past and present lives.

    When Goodsir visited Australia on Valentine’s Day, 1927, she was hailed as ‘a portrait painter of international repute’.[2] Apart from Cherry, Goodsir painted numerous famous and well-connected people including Leo Tolstoy and Banjo Paterson. Yet her portraits and likenesses of Cherry are, by and large, her most intimate and confident works. Goodsir returned to Paris for good later in 1927. It was where her heart resided; she too had become a Parisienne.

    Deborah Hart

    [1] Email from Anna Gray to Deborah Hart, 28 October 2009.

    [2] K Quinlan, In a picture land over the sea: Agnes Goodsir 1864–1939, Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria, 1988, p 12.

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

  • TheParisienne is one of several major portraits of the ‘modern woman’ that Agnes Goodsir painted in Paris during the mid-1920s. Dressed in masculine attire with a cigarette in hand, the sitter personifies the type of woman found in the cafés of the Montparnasse district, where Goodsir had her studio. The androgynous appearance of the sitter is accentuated by her short modern hairstyle, loose but elegant clothing and elongated fingers.

    Like the woman portrayed in this portrait, Goodsir lived her own life outside the confines of traditional roles assigned to bourgeois women. She left Australia in 1900 and established herself as a professional artist in London and Paris, exhibiting throughout Europe in the 1920s. Goodsir led an unconventional personal life through her close long-term relationship with her studio model and companion, ‘Cherry’ (Mrs Rachel Dunn).

    As in Goodsir’s other portraits of Cherry, this is an intimate character study which challenges perceptions and gender stereotypes. The flat and uncompromising background, stark tonal contrasts and boldness of the composition emphasise the modernity of the subject. Yet, by casting the face in shadow as if to conceal the sitter’s identity, the artist also created a sense of ambiguity. Capturing the spirit of the times, this portrait is a poignant example of the way in which modern women artists called into question, and indeed provided alternatives to, conventional female identities.

    Jacqui Strecker 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