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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. In 1937, when she was made a Dame of the British Empire, 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 – possibly, briefly, her boyfriend – Henry Lawson, forty years earlier.

Gordon Lyall Trindall gave up his Marrickville barbering business at age 26 to become an artist. 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’.

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