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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Of Pansy, plastiques and prudes

Eyes goggled and tongues wagged when ‘La Milo’, wearing very little by early twentieth century standards, performed her ‘living statues’ in London, drawing the ire of the bishop who demanded her ‘art’ be banned.

1 The Water Nymph, Miss Pansy Montague, c. 1905 an unknown artist. 2 The Water Nymph, Miss Pansy Montague, c. 1905 an unknown artist. 3 La Milo in Lady Godiva procession, Coventry, 1907 an unknown artist. 4 La Milo as Lady Godiva at Coventry, c. 1907 Rotary Photo Co. Ltd. 5 Hebe - The Modern Milo in one of her poses , c. 1898 - c. 1905 T. Humphrey & Co. State Library of Victoria.

Challenging Victorian morals was a lifestyle for Melbourne actress Pansy Montague, known as ‘La Milo’, as she performed her ‘poses plastiques’. Bedecked in white marbled paint, her ‘living sculptures’ begged the question: was it serious art or erotic tantalisation? In one notorious performance, Montague – outrageously wearing only pink ‘fleshings’, chiffon drapery and a lengthy wig – re-enacted the outing of another legendary unclad figure, Lady Godiva, riding for five hours in the 1907 Coventry Pageant before an audience of 150,000. ‘Pretty Pansy … Paralyses the Prudes’ ran the subsequent headline in the Brisbane Truth. In these souvenir postcards, a scantily clad Montague, all hypnotic gaze and enticing pose, portrays the mythological water nymph. An encounter with said creature could, reputedly, leave a man besotted, mad with lust, and drowned!

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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