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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.

Madame Melba

1922
Harold Cazneaux

gelatin silver photograph on paper (sheet: 38.0 cm x 30.5 cm, image: 36.5 cm x 28.5 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.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2015

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Harold Cazneaux (age 44 in 1922)

Dame Nellie Melba GBE (age 61 in 1922)

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
Charles Haddon Chambers
Charles Haddon Chambers
Charles Haddon Chambers

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
Portrait sketch of Nellie Melba
Portrait sketch of Nellie Melba
Portrait sketch of Nellie Melba

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.

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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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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