Wilhelmina (Minnie) Watt married American-born businessman, spiritualist and philanthropist Thomas Welton Stanford in Melbourne on 12 May 1869. She died within a year. This is one of two portraits of Minnie Watt; the painting in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia came from the Watt family, and this one remained with MacCormac. The portraits might have been painted before Minnie’s marriage to Stanford, and the artist might have painted this portrait for himself, as a memento of the beautiful young woman. Alternatively, her family may have commissioned the portrait after Minnie died, providing the artist with photographs taken before her marriage. MacCormac is certainly known to have painted portraits from photographs.
A major nineteenth-century portrait painter and Baptist minister, Andrew MacCormac was born in County Down, Northern Ireland, in 1826 and studied painting in London at Leigh’s Academy. MacCormac then decided to try his luck on the Victorian goldfields and migrated to Melbourne in about 1854. He became the Baptist pastor in a parish near Castlemaine in 1866. He moved to South Australia in 1868, where he became pastor of the prosperous copper-mining town of Moonta. He continued to paint there, finding inspiration in the miners at the diggings. He relinquished his ministry in 1880 and moved to Adelaide, where he opened a studio on Rundle Street and received commissions for portraits of civic and parliamentary dignitaries.
Anne Gray Head of Australian Art
in artonview, issue 70, winter 2012