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Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong)
, 1893

by Tom Roberts

oil on canvas (frame: 203.0 cm x 117.0 cm, support: 183.0 cm x 97.0 cm)

Hilda Spong (1875–1955), actress, came with her family to Australia from England in her early teens. Walter Spong, her father, was a scene painter who had worked at the Theatre Royal in Bristol and at Drury Lane. Hired by the Brough and Boucicault Comedy Company, in 1888 he moved to Melbourne, where he quickly fell in with Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts (who soon painted Hilda’s mother). Hilda first appeared on stage when she was fourteen. After taking some acting lessons, she made her speaking debut in 1891 in the Brough and Boucicault production of Dr Bill. Two years later, Walter Spong established a company to showcase his daughter’s talents. On the basis of triumphs in Melbourne and New Zealand, in 1896 she left Australia to establish her career in London, making her Drury Lane debut in The Duchess of Coolgardie: A Romance of the Australian Gold Fields. Before long she moved to New York City, where she was to star in fifty Broadway productions between 1898 and 1940.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by the Ian Potter Foundation 2008
Accession number: 2008.12