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.
Gift of an anonymous donor 2004
Accession number: 2004.12
More about the artist and subject
'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.
Magazine article, Portrait 31
Joanna Gilmour dives into the life of Australian swimming legend Annette Kellerman.
Permanent collection catalogue
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.