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Mr and Mrs Horace Keats in the "Christopher Brennan Cycle"
, 1945

by Dora Toovey

oil on canvas (frame: 152.5 cm x 112.0 cm depth 9.0 cm, support: 122.5 cm x 91.5 cm)

Horace Keats (1895–1945), pianist, conductor and composer, came to Australia from England in 1915 as a vaudevillian’s accompanist. Staying in the country to accompany Peter Dawson, amongst others, between 1917 and 1923 he was orchestral pianist and conductor for Count Filippini’s operas and performed in the restaurant of Farmers department store. Soon after, he became involved in the formation of the ABC. During the 1920s he and his wife, soprano Janet le Brun Brown (performing as Barbara Russell) began their long broadcasting careers; except for a short stint with the BBC, Keats was associated with the ABC until he died. From 1933 he composed earnestly, writing more than 120 pieces; his wife was the principal performer of his songs. In the mid–1930s he began setting the work of Australian poets to music, soon commencing an ambitious song cycle of the poems of Christopher Brennan (1870–1932). Janet and Horace are depicted in performance, with the spectral figure of Brennan attending closely. Horace Keats died before the painting was completed. Words from Brennan’s poem ‘I am shut out of mine own heart’ – the last song the couple ever performed together – drift across it.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Anne and Brennan Keats 2009
Accession number: 2009.49