Alice MILLS, Winter Enlarge 1 /1


Australia 1870 – 1929

Winter c.1907 Description: Portrait of the artist's mother, writer Margaret Journeaux

Collection Title: The seasons
Creation Notes: Included in the 1907 Womens Art Exhibition
Materials & Technique: photographs, gelatin silver photograph, watercolour gelatin silver photograph Place Published: Greenhouse, Melbourne 1981

Dimensions: printed image 37.0 h x 29.0 w cm sheet (irregular) 37.9 h x 30.1 w cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of Dr Mary True 1982
Accession No: NGA 82.1936
Subject: Portrait: female

In the first decades of the 20th century, many women found in photography a means to independence and creativity. Previously, women had been chiefly employed in the backroom production and retouching facilities of many studios. In the 19th century, few women were listed as proprietors of studios, except in association with their husbands. Alice Mills from Bendigo started work as a retoucher in the studio of one such partnership: the well-known (Henry) Johnstone & (Emily) O’Shaughnessy studio in Melbourne. In 1900, she set up a studio in Melbourne with her husband, the painter Tom Humphrey, and from 1913 she had her own studio in the Centreway, Collins Street.

In Victorian and Edwardian times, themes in the visual arts contrasting youth and age or the progress between birth and death held a particular fascination. For a display of her work at the First Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work in Melbourne in 1907, Mills chose to illustrate the four seasons. She used her mother as the sitter for the representation of ‘Winter’, posing her dressed in a plain shawl and lighting her from below to suggest a winter fireside. The old lady of the picture pauses in her knitting and stares off into the distance as if remembering the past. It was a clichéd subject handled with restraint and effectiveness. Perhaps Mills’s mother, Margaret Journeaux, was remembering Cork, where she had been born, but in real life Mrs Journeaux also did another kind of ‘Women’s Work’, as a writer.  The whereabouts of the remaining seasons is unknown.

Gael Newton

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