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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.

Self portrait, c. 1934

Stella Bowen

oil on cardboard (frame: 55.8 cm x 45.5 cm, support: 49.5 cm x 39.1 cm)

Stella Bowen (1893–1947), artist and writer, was born in Adelaide and was in her teens when she persuaded her mother to permit her to take art lessons. She began studying under Margaret Preston at the School of Design around 1910. Following her mother’s death in 1913, Bowen decided to leave Adelaide – a place she later described as ‘a queer little backwater of intellectual timidity’ – and pursue a career as an artist in Europe. She arrived in London in 1914, later enrolling at the Westminster School of Art and becoming part of a circle of artists and writers that included TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and WB Yeats. She met the English novelist Ford Madox Ford in 1917 and began a relationship with him that lasted nine years during which her own work was often accorded second place to Ford’s. Their daughter, Julia, was born in 1920. In France from 1922, Bowen painted landscapes and portraits of friends and family, becoming dependent on her painting for an income when her relationship with Ford ended. Bowen travelled to the USA in 1932, completing a number of portrait commissions there before returning to Europe and spending the remainder of the decade eking out a living with painting, reviewing and teaching in England and France. Her memoir, Drawn from life, appeared in 1941. In 1944, she became the second woman appointed an official war artist and was tasked with depicting the activities of the RAAF in England and the return of prisoners of war from Germany. In this role, Bowen produced a total of forty-six works, including Bomber Crew (1944), a group portrait completed from sketches she made prior to the seven-strong crew’s departure on a mission from which six men did not return. Her last commission as a war artist was a depiction of George VI saluting troops on Victory Day in London in 1946. Bowen was gravely ill with cancer when she completed the painting in 1947. Wishing to return to Australia but lacking her fare, she sought, unsuccessfully, to be repatriated on a troop ship. Bowen died in England in October 1947.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2003

Accession number: 2003.18

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Stella Bowen (age 41 in 1934)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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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.

Self portrait, c. 1934 Stella Bowen
Self portrait, c. 1934 Stella Bowen
Self portrait, c. 1934 Stella Bowen
Self portrait, c. 1934 Stella Bowen

A Singular Line

Magazine article by Simon Elliott, 2003

A newly acquired work by Stella Bowen adds to the National Portrait Gallery's growing collection of important Australian self-portraits.

Self portrait with glove, 1939 Herbert Badham
Self portrait with glove, 1939 Herbert Badham
Self portrait with glove, 1939 Herbert Badham
Self portrait with glove, 1939 Herbert Badham

To Look Within

Self Portraits in Australia

Previous exhibition, 2004

This exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of self-portraits in Australia, from the colonial period to the present

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery

Explore portraiture and come face to face with Australian identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity.

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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.