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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.

Dame Nellie Melba, c. 1901

Rupert Bunny

pencil on paper (frame: 37.1 cm x 33.3 cm, sheet: 10.5 cm x 16.6 cm)

Dame Nellie Melba GBE (Helen Porter Armstrong, née Mitchell, 1861-1931) was a world-renowned soprano. Raised in Melbourne, at the age of twenty she was taken by her widower father to Mackay, where she met Charles Nesbit, a man who, according to her biographer, 'agreeably combined exceptional skills as a rough rider with the recommendation of a gentle birth'. She had a son with him, but after a year she left him, returning to Melbourne to study under Pietro Cecchi. Making her way to Paris she became a pupil of Mathilde Marchesi, on whose advice she adopted the name Melba, derived from her native city, Melbourne. After making her début in Brussels in 1887, aged 26, she appeared regularly at Covent Garden, where she maintained a private dressing room and gave her final performance in 1926. Over the same period, mobbed everywhere by fans and enjoying the attention of many lovers, she made sensational tours of the USA and Europe. Partly resident in Australia from 1909 onwards, she sang the national anthem at the opening of Parliament House, Canberra in May 1927, during the period in which she made so many farewell appearances that across Australia the phrase 'doing a Melba' came to mean making repeated announcements that one is leaving, without actually departing. On her grave in Lilydale Cemetery, Melbourne, is the farewell uttered by Mimi in La Bohème: 'Addio, senza rancor' ('Goodbye, no hard feelings').

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2009

Accession number: 2009.153

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Rupert Bunny (age 37 in 1901)

Dame Nellie Melba GBE (age 40 in 1901)

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.

Charles Haddon Chambers, 1921 Ralph Barton
Charles Haddon Chambers, 1921 Ralph Barton
Charles Haddon Chambers, 1921 Ralph Barton
Charles Haddon Chambers, 1921 Ralph Barton

Suave

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2010

Charles Haddon Chambers the Australian-born playboy playwright settled permanently in London in 1880 but never lost his Australian stance when satirising the English.

Portrait sketch of Nellie Melba, 1902 Hugh Ramsay
Portrait sketch of Nellie Melba, 1902 Hugh Ramsay
Portrait sketch of Nellie Melba, 1902 Hugh Ramsay
Portrait sketch of Nellie Melba, 1902 Hugh Ramsay

Doodles of the Diva

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2010

Three tiny sketches of Dame Nellie Melba in the NPG collection were created by the artist who was to go on to paint the most imposing representation of the singer: Rupert Bunny.

Florence Austral, c. 1930 Howard Barron
Florence Austral, c. 1930 Howard Barron
Florence Austral, c. 1930 Howard Barron
Florence Austral, c. 1930 Howard Barron

Pretty in peach

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2008
It's remarkable that the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond has produced two of Australia's most successful opera singers. Three decades apart, but within a short distance of each other, both Helen Porter Mitchell and Florence Wilson were born.
We would like to thank our partners.
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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.