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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.

Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong), 1893

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

Currently on display: Gallery Five (John Schaeffer Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Tom Roberts (age 37 in 1893)

Hilda Spong (age 18 in 1893)

Subject professions

Performing arts

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.

Hilda Spong portrait story video: 2 minutes
Hilda Spong portrait story video: 2 minutes
Hilda Spong portrait story video: 2 minutes
Hilda Spong portrait story video: 2 minutes

Practising the Minuet

'Who was Hilda Spong?'

Portrait story

Broadway star Miss Hilda Spong was painted by Tom Roberts in 1893.

The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904

Beguiling impressions

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2012

Sarah Engledow is seduced by the portraits and the connections between the artists and their subjects in the exhibition Impressions: Painting light and life.

Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong), 1893 Tom Roberts
Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong), 1893 Tom Roberts
Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong), 1893 Tom Roberts
Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong), 1893 Tom Roberts

An actress and her fans

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2008

Dr. Sarah Engledow discovers the amazing life of Ms. Hilda Spong, little remembered star of the stage, who was captured in a portrait by Tom Roberts.

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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.