Painted in 1931 by 21-year-old art student Dorothy Thornhill, Diana resting is one of the most extraordinary female nudes of the inter-war period. Stylistically, the work owes much to Art Deco in its volumetric modelling of form with smooth surfaces and sharp outlines, as well as in its classical subject.
However, what is truly startling about this work is Thornhill’s depiction of Diana (in Roman mythology the virgin goddess of the hunt), for her lean, muscular and powerful physique has no precursor in the tradition of the female nude in Australia. Her stance and studied air of nonchalance are not poses derived from classical references, but instead seem to come from the glamour photography of the period. Similarly, Diana’s fashionably bobbed hair and finely drawn eyebrows indicate that this is an image of a ‘modern woman’ of the inter-war period who were increasingly asserting their independence and rights. In contrast with the physical strength and self-assuredness of Diana, the obviously phallic and downward-pointing quiver of arrows hanging from a severed branch clearly suggests the triumph of the female in this particular encounter between the sexes.
Thornhill was born in England in 1910, and emigrated with her family to New Zealand where she studied at the Elam School of Art in Auckland. In 1929, she moved to Sydney to study at the East Sydney Technical College. At that time Rayner Hoff was an influential teacher at the school and a leading proponent of the art deco style in his sculptural work. In 1934, Thornhill was appointed drawing teacher at East Sydney Technical College, a position she held for nearly 40 years, and where she was considered an inspirational teacher of life drawing.
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