Tom ROBERTS, Mrs Leonard Dodds Enlarge 1 /1


Dorchester, England 1856 – Kallista, Victoria, Australia 1931

  • Australia from 1869
  • England, Europe 1881- 85, 1903-23

Mrs Leonard Dodds c.1893 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas

Dimensions: 50.8 h x 40.7 w cm framed (overall) 720 h x 615 w x 35 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1959
Accession No: NGA 59.124

Parting her lips in a serene smile, Mrs Dodds sits seemingly unposed and unaffected. A gentle glance over her shoulder is captured with casual elegance. Not possessing the formal airs of many portrait sitters, she is pictured at ease in the company of her artist friend Tom Roberts.

The leg-o-mutton sleeve of her crisp white blouse dominates the composition, its copious volume and energetic articulation a counterpoint to the delicate modelling of the sitter’s features. The simplicity of the shallow background focuses our eye on her warm, luminous skin and natural bearing. With unadorned hair swept up in a simple bun, Roberts effortlessly portrays her quiet effervescence.

Daughter of Henry and Harriet Dodds, Winifred Dodds (1866–1946) married her cousin Leonard Dodds in 1887. A beautiful and intelligent society lady, she participated in flower shows, community events and hosted lunches and afternoon teas accompanied by music programs. These occasions were often associated with the Society of Artists’ exhibitions. Leonard and Winifred lived on Wycombe Road in Neutral Bay, near Roberts’s digs at Curlew Camp in Little Sirius Cove on Sydney Harbour. Both steadfast patrons of the arts, they took an active interest in the artists’ camp and established a considerable collection including works by Roberts and Arthur Streeton.

By October 1891, a month after arriving in Port Jackson from Melbourne, Roberts had settled happily at Curlew. Frederick McCubbin remarked in a letter to him: ‘I am so glad you feel in sympathy with Sydney: I think you must get more sun than we do, and it makes you feel chirpy.’[1] Though many of the artists at the camp, including Roberts and Streeton, survived on a minor stipend, they did not neglect the luxuries of late Victorian middle-class life. Housed in extensively furnished tents complete with Oriental rugs, they enjoyed the company of an itinerant Italian seaman as manservant and Old Jules as cook.

Roberts came to the camp optimistic of Sydney’s prospects and despite a deepening Depression sold two portraits to the Art Gallery New South Wales. During his four and a half years at Curlew, the ‘Society Bohemian’ became one of Sydney’s most fashionable portrait painters.[2] In Mrs Leonard Dodds the artist reveals this celebrated aptitude for realising the subtle nuances of the sitter’s personality, with Streeton remarking that the portrait is ‘a rare one, & she’ll never have better’.[3]

Emma Colton

[1] Frederick McCubbin, in R H Croll, Tom Roberts: Father of Australian landscape painting, Robertson & Mullins, Melbourne, 1935, pp 172–3.

[2] D H Souter, in Croll, as above, p 40.

[3] Arthur Streeton, in R H Croll (ed), Smike to Bulldog: letters from Sir Arthur Streeton to Tom Roberts, Ure Smith, Sydney, 1946, p 68.

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