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The sitter (Drusilla Modjeska)
, 2001

by Jo Bertini

oil on canvas

Drusilla Modjeska (b.1946) writer, feminist and academic, was born in England and moved to Australia in 1971 after several years in Papua New Guinea. Her doctoral thesis, on Australian women writers of the interwar years, informed her published works in the 1980s. Poppy, a biography of her mother with a strong autobiographical undercurrent, was published in 1990; The Orchard in 1995. Both won NSW Premier’s Awards for nonfiction, and her double biography of the Australian painters Stella Bowen and Grace Cossington Smith, Stravinsky’s Lunch, published in 1999, won a third. Recipient of the gold medal of the Australian Literature Society, Modjeska has taught at the University of Technology, Sydney, and held various fellowships at the University of Sydney. In 2012 her first work of fiction, The Mountain, drew on her period of residence in, and recent regular travels to, Papua New Guinea.

On the night of the opening of the Portia Geach Prize of 2001, Modjeska was distressed to see that Bertini had not painted the string of her mother’s pearls that she habitually wore. Bertini added the pearls with a stick of charcoal then and there. Later, she gained access to the closed SH Ervin gallery and painted them properly.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds from the Basil Bressler Bequest 2002
Accession number: 2002.35