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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.

Self portrait, 1909

Bess Norriss Tait

watercolour and bodycolour on cardboard (frame: 44.3 cm x 30.0 cm, support: 29.5 cm x 15.5 cm)

Bess Norriss Tait, artist, was born in Melbourne and had her first art lessons, aged ten, from the landscape painter, Jane Sutherland. Between 1897 and 1901 she studied at the National Gallery School and began exhibiting with the Victorian Art Society. At the instigation of a patron, she sent examples of her miniatures to a London expert, who encouraged her to further her career in England. In London from 1905, she studied at the Slade School, became a member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters and in 1908 achieved the first of her many inclusions in exhibitions such as those of the Royal Academy and the New Salon, Paris. She married Australian theatre entrepreneur James Nevin Tait in London in 1908 and through him developed associations with the community of creative Australian expats that included Percy Grainger, Nellie Melba and Ada Crossley. She returned to Australia briefly in 1910, completing a number of portrait commissions here and holding exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne from which works were acquired by the National Galleries of Victoria and New South Wales. She returned to London in 1911 and settled in Chelsea, where she died in January 1939.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by Barbara and Jim Higgins 2010

Accession number: 2010.132

Currently on display: Gallery Five (John Schaeffer Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Bess Norriss Tait (age 31 in 1909)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

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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.

Self portrait, 1909 Bess Norriss Tait
Self portrait, 1909 Bess Norriss Tait
Self portrait, 1909 Bess Norriss Tait
Self portrait, 1909 Bess Norriss Tait

Small worlds

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2010

Bess Norriss Tait created miniature watercolour portraits full of character and life.

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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.