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Portrait of Florence Broadhurst
, 1968

by Joshua Smith

oil on canvas (frame: 89.5 cm x 70.2 cm, sight: 79.2 cm x 60.0 cm)

Florence Maude Broadhurst (1899-1977), designer, businesswoman and performer, grew up on a cattle station west of Bundaberg in Queensland and as a young woman toured Asia with musical theatre troupes. Having briefly run a finishing school in Shanghai, she went to London in the late 1920s, adopting the identity ‘Madame Pellier’ and, in partnership with her husband, establishing herself as a couturier in Bond Street. Returning to Australia in 1949 with her second husband and their son, Florence took up landscape painting and during the 1950s exhibited her works at the David Jones Art Gallery and at venues in Brisbane and Canberra. In 1959, she established Australian (Hand Printed) Wallpapers Pty Ltd. and, with a small staff, produced a range of high-quality wallpapers from a workshop situated at the back of her St Leonards car dealership. Within a decade, Broadhurst had built a considerable reputation for wallpaper designs that were typically as bold, vibrant and flamboyant as she was, and which were unique for their experimentation with printing techniques, finishes and textures. The company became known as Florence Broadhurst Wallpapers Pty Ltd on its relocation to premises in Paddington in 1969, thereafter exporting its products internationally. The Broadhurst Design Collection had grown to some 800 patterns when Florence was murdered in the Paddington factory in October 1977. The case has never been solved. In recent years, many of Broadhurst’s wallpapers have been reissued commercially, and fashion designers including Akira Isogawa have created fabrics based on her designs. Broadhurst has also been the subject of two biographies and Gillian Armstrong’s 2006 documentary, Unfolding Florence.

Joshua Smith (1905–1995) studied at East Sydney Technical College and Julian Ashton’s Art School. While working with a camouflage unit during the war, he met artist William Dobell, who won the 1943 Archibald Prize with a portrait of Smith. A law case ensued, with the artist complainants alleging that Dobell’s work was a caricature of his friend. Though the court found in Dobell’s favour, the trial was debilitating for both artist and sitter, but the following year Smith won the Archibald himself. Between 1927 and 1986, Smith was a regular exhibitor in the Archibald as well as in the Wynne and Sulman Prizes. This work and his 1962 portrait of Florence Broadhurst were both Archibald finalists.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2007
Accession number: 2007.18