England 1803 – Australia 1842
A woman of NSW
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
This woman of NSW is dressed ‘to the nines’. She wears a remarkable hat with New South Wales orchids over carefully arranged curls and a magnificent purple gown. She is also wearing ornate earrings and brooch. She has a strong, long but rather plain face. She gazes out of the picture directly at the viewer with an air of confidence.
Maurice Felton’s portraits frequently have a detailed, fine rendering of the face and facial features, capturing the texture of the skin and bringing out the character of the sitter, without flattery. His depiction of fabric emphasises the sheen of the material, and his portrayal of the jewellery is accomplished. There is a flash of ‘Felton red’ in the floral decorations of this woman’s hat.
Felton was born in England and trained as a surgeon in Glasgow before immigrating to Sydney in 1839, where he worked as a portrait painter until his death from unknown causes in 1842. He held an exhibition of his paintings a few months after his arrival and soon became friendly with art patron Alexander Brodie Spark and the artist Conrad Martens. After painting several portraits of Spark’s family, Felton gained further portrait commissions and for a brief period he was the foremost portrait painter in New South Wales. On 30 July 1841 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that ‘the prominent way in which Mr Felton brings out his figures from the canvas, both faces and bust, gives them a fullness and a rotundity very opposite to the pasteboard flatness of some otherwise good artists’. The reporter added, ‘There is, in consequence, a life and an animation about the face and figure of Mr Felton’s portraits which attracts the applause of judges’.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014