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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

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 (1886–1975), swimmer and entertainer, was among the early twentieth century's most recognisable women. Diagnosed with rickets as a child, Kellerman swam to strengthen her legs. Aged fifteen, she became the state champion for the 100 yards and set a world record for the mile. Frustrated with the lack of opportunities in Australia, she went to London in 1905, earning attention with a number of marathon swims. A deft self-promoter, Kellerman styled herself as the 'Diving Venus', devising a unique stage show that combined music, singing, dancing and wire-walking with diving and underwater ballet. After moving to the US, by 1917 she was reputedly the highest paid woman in vaudeville and had starred in the first of several films. Also a fitness advocate, Kellerman popularised the women's one-piece swimming costume and wrote the pioneering books Physical Beauty: How to Keep It and How to Swim (both 1918). Kellerman spent the Second World War touring with her own theatre troupe, performing charity shows for soldiers. Staying true to her beliefs, she swam daily until very late in life.

A leading portrait photographer, H. Walter Barnett's image of Kellerman presents her as an ingénue, while its full-length format also makes a feature of her athletic body and alludes to her modern interpretation of new womanhood.

Gift of an anonymous donor 2004

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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.

Dame Edna Everage
Dame Edna Everage
Dame Edna Everage
Dame Edna Everage

Bare

Degrees of undress

Previous exhibition, 2015

Bare: Degrees of undress celebrates the candid, contrived, natural, sexy, ironic, beautiful, and fascinating in Australian portraiture that shows a bit of skin. 

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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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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