Hobart, Tasmania, Australia 1881 – 1971
Portrait of a woman
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, drawing in colour pastels Support: paper mounted on stretcher
The First Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work, mounted in Melbourne in 1907, was an expression of an increased political and cultural profile of women in Australia that had been developing since at least the 1890s. The exhibition included two impressively large charcoal drawings of draped figures by the young Hobart-born artist Florence Rodway.
In the latter half of the first decade of the 20th century, Florence Rodway developed a distinctive style of pastel drawing (or pastel painting as the medium was often described). The approach used by Rodway between 1910 and 1914 was freer than most painting of the period. The works were vigorous and linear; form was developed through layers of strokes, rather than through blending. Critics writing of her work in these years were uncertain whether to accept her lively use of the medium or to denegrate a quality perceived as excessive mannerism. They all agreed, however, that her pastels fulfilled the first function of portraits – to present living likenesses. One feature of Rodway’s portraits was a focus on the face and the merging of the sitter’s clothes with the background: ‘The artist has evidently gone on the principle of the central feature of vision being most distinct, and the balance being framed more by suggestion’, wrote one commentator.*
Rodway was one of Australia’s most original pastellists, yet she shares one characteristic with Tom Roberts and the more prolific Janet Cumbrae Stewart: most of her sitters for pastel portraits were women and children. However, she drew portraits of a number of well-known sitters including Henry Lawson and Nellie Melba. By the 1920s her style had changed – the vigour of her earlier pieces was replaced by a more tonal approach, closer to painting than drawing.
Andrew Sayers 2002
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