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Dame Mary Gilmore
, c. 1938

by Lyall Trindall

oil on canvas (frame: 98.5 cm x 88.5 cm, support: 86.5 cm x 76.2 cm)

Dame Mary Gilmore DBE (1865–1962) was a poet, journalist, radical social visionary and letter writer. She was the first female member of the Australian Workers’ Union, and from 1908 to 1931 she championed the causes of the underprivileged as editor of the women’s page of the Australian Worker. In 1930 she published The Wild Swan, a book of verse decrying white settlers’ ravaging of the land and indifference to Aboriginal culture. Under the Wilgas (1932) and subsequent works expanded on this theme. Between 1891 and 1961 at least 13 portraits were made of Gilmore by various artists. (Before its acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery, this was the only known portrait of Gilmore in a private collection.) In 1937, when she was made a Dame of the British Empire in recognition of her contribution to Australian life and literature, she became the first person to be created DBE for writing. Her State funeral in Sydney was the first for an Australian writer since that of her friend Henry Lawson, forty years earlier.

Gordon Lyall Trindall (1886–1965) gave up his Marrickville barbering business at the age of twenty-six to become an artist. He undertook some training at the JS Watkins School, and won the one and only Fairfax Prize in 1914. By the 1940s he was widely known for his portraits and nudes, which commanded extraordinarily high prices. Trindall stated that while modern art may be good, he himself could not make a living at it. Instead, his aim was to paint what the public wanted;‘sincerity’, he said, ‘is my guiding principle’. In 1951 he took out a writ for £735 against the McCaugheys of Narrandera and Darling Point, having painted a portrait of Mrs McCaughey that she ‘repudiated’ when she saw it. He claimed that the couple had commissioned the portrait, while she maintained that she had ‘allowed’ him to paint her for the Archibald. Trindall won the well-publicised case, which severely embarrassed the McCaugheys. Until it was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 2001, Trindall’s portrait of Mary Gilmore was the only known representation of the author remaining in private hands.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds provided by Marilyn Darling AC 2001
Accession number: 2001.42