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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.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye with Lily, 1993

Jenny Sages

oil on canvas (frame: 216.2 cm x 185.5 cm depth 4.3 cm, support: 213.5 cm x 182.5 cm)

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Kngwarrey) (c.1910–1996), Anmatyerre artist, was born at Alhalkere, Utopia Station in the Northern Territory. After her ancestral land was appropriated for cattle grazing, she worked as a stockhand. As she grew older she became a leader in women’s ceremonial business, experienced in ceremonial body painting. From 1977 she collaborated in the production of batik, an important industry for the Anmatyerre after they regained land title. She first painted on canvas in 1988. In the course of her brief career she produced thousands of canvases depicting the flowers, roots, dust and summer rains of her country, the translucent colours built up with layered touches of paint to create an illusion of depth and movement. In 1998 a retrospective exhibition of Kngwarreye’s work, Alhalkere – Paintings from Utopia, travelled to three state galleries and the National Gallery of Australia. Ten years later Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarrey, an exhibition of 120 of the artist’s works, showed in Osaka and Tokyo. With that exhibition, Kngwarreye was recognised as one of the very greatest abstract artists of the twentieth century.

Jenny Sages (b. 1933) came to Australia as a fifteen-year-old, trained in art in New York and travelled for some years before returning to live in Sydney, where she worked as a commercial illustrator for magazines including Vogue. At the age of fifty she went to the Kimberley, and significant aspects of her life up until that time simply fell away. She gave up commercial illustration to become a full-time artist, concentrating on abstract and landscape works. For more than twenty years she went out annually to ‘walk the land’ with women companions. On one of her early expeditions, she arranged to meet Emily Kngwarreye. Having charmed her way onto a plane with some German curators, she had to wait for four days for the older woman to turn up with her mob. Emily thought Jenny was as old as she was; they were about the same size; and Sages recalls that they sat and talked ‘as two eighty-three-year-olds do’. Sitting with Kngwarreye, Sages poured her impressions onto paper, annotating drawing after drawing with her sitter’s remarks. Back in her Sydney studio, she developed the huge, spare painting that became a foundation work for the Portrait Gallery. Along with it into the collection came the drawings that she made under the ‘talking tree’, capturing the changing expressions on the Anmatyerre woman’s face, her shifts between lively and impassive postures, and the things that she said as she first embraced, then tired of, the process.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 1998
© Jenny Sages

Accession number: 1998.2

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Jenny Sages (age 60 in 1993)

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (age 83 in 1993)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

Emily Kame Kngwarreye with Lily, 1993 Jenny Sages
Emily Kame Kngwarreye with Lily, 1993 Jenny Sages
Emily Kame Kngwarreye with Lily, 1993 Jenny Sages
Emily Kame Kngwarreye with Lily, 1993 Jenny Sages

Virtual collection tour

This is my place: country

Tue 6 Oct
12:30pm

Explore the different ways people connect to the land and to each other.

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Making Stories video: 3 minutes
Making Stories video: 3 minutes
Making Stories video: 3 minutes
Making Stories video: 3 minutes

Kate Grenville

'Making Stories'

Portrait story

Australian writer Kate Grenville discusses her career and portrait by Jenny Sages.

Each morning when I wake up I put on my mothers face, 2000
Each morning when I wake up I put on my mothers face, 2000
Each morning when I wake up I put on my mothers face, 2000
Each morning when I wake up I put on my mothers face, 2000

Paths to portraiture

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2010

The life and art of Australian artist Jenny Sages is on display in the exhibition Paths to Portraiture.

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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.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.