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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.

Charles Haddon Chambers, 1921

Ralph Barton

ink and watercolour on cardboard (sheet: 47.0 cm x 32.0 cm, image: 47.0 cm x 27.0 cm)

Charles Haddon Chambers (1860–1921), playwright and dramatist, grew up in Sydney. Leaving school at thirteen, he worked as a clerk and then, for two years, as a boundary rider. At the age of twenty-two he settled permanently in London, where he began writing to support himself, contributing pieces to local magazines and writing London letters for the Bulletin. In 1888, Chambers’s reputation was established when his play Captain Swift was staged with Herbert Tree in the lead role. The play about a bushranger grabbed by ‘the long arm of coincidence’ was to be his only Australian-themed work apart from Thumb-nail sketches of Australian life (1891). For three decades he worked on twenty or so plays, which were staged in the West End and sometimes in New York; his outstanding successes included The fatal card (1894), The tyranny of tears (1899), Passers-by (1911) and The saving grace (1917). Handsome, graceful and a scintillating conversationalist, he was courted by society hostesses and prominent in club life. Although he was amicably married, between 1896 and 1904 he was Nellie Melba’s lover. His second wife, actress Pepita Bobadilla, later married Sidney Reilly, ‘Ace of Spies’.

Ralph Barton (1891–1931) New Yorker and Vanity Fair cartoonist, drew some of the defining images of American high life of the 1920s, including the illustrations for the novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and its successor, But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. His portrait subjects included Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway, Sigmund Freud and Lillian Gish. Cursed with depression, Barton suicided in his Manhattan penthouse at thirty-nine.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2010

Accession number: 2010.137

Currently on display: Gallery Five (John Schaeffer Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Ralph Barton (age 30 in 1921)

Charles Haddon Chambers (age 61 in 1921)

Related information

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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.

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.

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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.