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Portrait Assortment

Reflections on portraiture

The famed nineteenth century French tightrope walker and aerial acrobat, Charles Blondin, born Jean Francoix Gravelet (1824–1897), was known for thrilling audiences world-wide with his acrobatic feats. The ‘crazy, bearded little Frenchman’ is said to have crossed Niagara Gorge on over 300 occasions, at first performing simple crossings then amazing onlookers with increasingly bizarre and challenging stunts. Renowned for being the cleverest and most venturesome of his profession, Blondin’s feats were said to be too skilful and required courage beyond the limits of his imitators. His first crossing of Niagara Falls in 1859 startled the thousands of onlookers who witnessed the event, so much so that his stunt was spoken about for generations to come. Such was his confidence that he even offered to carry Albert, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) across Niagara Falls while the Prince was on an official visit to Canada. His Royal Highness, needless to say, declined the invitation.

Clara Harriet Crosbie was twelve years old when she went missing in the bush near Yellingbo in the Yarra Valley in May 1885. ‘The child had been sent on a visit to a neighbour about a mile from her mother’s house’, reported the Argus, but ‘as a town-bred girl, of warm affections and quick impulses … she resolved to find her way home, although she did not know the way.’ Faced with the perilous wilds, Clara took shelter in the hollow of a tree for three weeks, emerging to crawl her way to a nearby creek, withered and athirst for water.