Australia 1855 – 1917
oil on canvas
76.6 (h) x 91.8 (w) cm
Art Gallery of Ballarat purchased under the William Davies Bequest Fund, 1945
In this work McCubbin depicted his daughter Kathleen seated at the family piano in the music room in their South Yarra house. The picture behind her is her father’s portrait Mrs Beaufort (A lady of Virginia) 1902 (NGV). The chair to the right is now in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. The light in the house was from oil lamps.
When the painting was exhibited in 1912, a reviewer commented that it was ‘one of the gems of the collection’ (Age, 14 August 1912, p 9), and in 1915 it was noted to have ‘exquisite tone and colour qualities’ (Age, 7 October 1915, p 11). Ursula Hoff subsequently observed that this painting was:
a particularly good example of the combination of effects of light with poetic colour. The colours of the girl’s blue dress and yellow hair are repeated on the right in the yellow globe of the lamp standing against a blue wall hanging. The rendering of reflected sunlight on the wall and on the hanging is not Impressionist in the French sense because it expresses emotion through the firework-like, explosive quality of the colour strokes (Hoff 1956, pp 305–6).
McCubbin’s daughter Kathleen commented:
The blue velvet dress I have on in this painting was long, right down to my feet, and it was beautiful … It was made for the opening of one of my father’s exhibitions which Nellie Melba opened. I can remember I had to present Nellie Melba with a bunch of red roses—I didn’t do it very well, I might add, because I was a bit scared. Anyway, when Melba arrived with three young men she was so charming, as Melba could be when she was in the mood, … and I gave her the red roses and she accepted them graciously. She had received thousands of posies before but she received mine as if it was the only posy she had ever received, and she took my hand and said ‘Now will you take me around the exhibition and tell me all about your father’s paintings’—and I walked around the exhibition with her, and I thought that was wonderful you know, walking around hand-in-hand with the great Nellie Melba (Kathleen Mangan, quoted in Mackenzie 1990, p 156).