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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.

Annette Kellerman smiling, c. 1907 (printed 2003)

H. Walter Barnett

modern bromide print from an original negative (sheet: 30.3 cm x 40.5 cm, image: 27.3 cm x 39.3 cm)

Annette Kellerman (1887-1975) took up swimming as a child to correct a birth defect in her leg. Her marathon swimming feats made her famous in Australia and then in England, where she swam 30 miles down the Thames. In the U.S. she first gained notoriety in 1907, when she was arrested on a Boston beach for wearing a one-piece swimsuit that revealed an indecent proportion of her arms and legs. Soon afterwards she mounted a successful stage tour of the States, performing underwater routines in large transparent water tanks. Signed by Universal Studios, she appeared in a succession of aquatically themed movies beginning with Neptune's Daughter (1914), in which she was required to perform a provocative "nude" scene, her modesty shielded only by a carefully deployed length of seaweed. Her later films included A Daughter of the Gods (1916) and Venus of the South Seas (1924). Her career was commemorated in the 1952 movie Million Dollar Mermaid, starring Esther Williams as Kellerman.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of an anonymous donor 2004

Accession number: 2004.12

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

H. Walter Barnett (age 45 in 1907)

Annette Kellerman (age 20 in 1907)

Related information

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.

Annette Kellerman, c. 1916
Annette Kellerman, c. 1916
Annette Kellerman, c. 1916
Annette Kellerman, c. 1916

Naked ambition

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2009

Joanna Gilmour dives into the life of Australian swimming legend Annette Kellerman.

Annette Kellerman, c. 1907 (printed 2003) H. Walter Barnett
Annette Kellerman, c. 1907 (printed 2003) H. Walter Barnett
Annette Kellerman, c. 1907 (printed 2003) H. Walter Barnett
Annette Kellerman, c. 1907 (printed 2003) H. Walter Barnett

Indecent exposure

Annette Kellerman

Previous exhibition, 2011

'Diving Venus' and 'the perfect woman' are two of the numerous descriptions applied to Annette Kellerman, who achieved international fame during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Sarah Bernhardt, 1910 by Walter Barnett
Sarah Bernhardt, 1910 by Walter Barnett
Sarah Bernhardt, 1910 by Walter Barnett
Sarah Bernhardt, 1910 by Walter Barnett

Legends

The Art of Walter Barnett 1862-1934

Previous exhibition, 2001

A National Portrait Gallery travelling exhibition.

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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.