Marguerite MAHOOD, not titled [actress in medieval costume]. Enlarge 1 /1

Marguerite MAHOOD

Richmond, Victoria, Australia 1901 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1989

not titled [actress in medieval costume]. 1919 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, graphite; ink; paper; watercolour drawing in pen and brush and ink and watercolour over black pencil Support: cardboard

Primary Insc: signed and dated lower right in watercolour, 'M Calloway 1919'. not titled.
Tertiary Insc: Inscribed verso lower right in black pencil, '839'. Inscribed verso lower centre in black pencil, '...(illeg)'.
Dimensions: image 46.2 h x 22.6 w cm sheet 46.2 h x 22.6 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1979
Accession No: NGA 79.2166
  • Purchased by the Australian National Gallery, from Important Woman Artists, Melbourne, 1979.

Never much interested in portraying the prosaic side of life, Marguerite Mahood preferred instead subjects from history or from a whimsical world of Gothic fantasy. She was also much influenced by the sensibilities and aesthetics of the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements.

Mahood, like artists Thea Proctor and Violet Teague,  was fascinated by costume and artifice. Her actress stands on a stage, a closed curtain behind her. She is an eloquent image of the theatrical world and quietly invites us into her domain. The mask she holds delicately in her hands draws us to her: its sorrowful downcast expression is in contrast with her gentle smile and symbolises the pretence and emotional breadth required of an actor.

The bold black and red decorative patterning of her costume, with its elegant line and supple folds, is reminiscent of medieval dress and contrasts with the soft glow of her porcelain-like skin. The form, design and patterning of the costume, which resemble women’s kimono in 19th-century Japanese prints, reflect a late manifestation of the turn of the century fascination with Japonisme.

Mahood painted Actress in medieval costume when she was just 18 and studying drawing under Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery School in Melbourne. The strict academic training she received there honed her precocious skill as a draughtsperson. She signed this study in her maiden name of Callaway. By the 1920s, Mahood was working as a professional artist and often showed her drawings and watercolours, linocuts and oil paintings with the Victorian Artists Society. While she became more widely known for her ceramics from the 1930s, her fascination with history and fantasy remained.\

Anne McDonald

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