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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.

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Audio description

4 minutes 25 seconds

The portrait shows Judith Wright; poet, literary critic, editor, and fiction writer, with her friend Barbara Blackman; poet, writer, and philanthropist. The portrait is oriented horizontally, and measures approximately 115cm tall by 150cm wide including its unusual 10 cm frame. This is a complex work of bright colours, unusual shapes and bold textures

The wooden frame is like a series of concentric frames within frames, of varying widths and colours, painted to resemble different metals. On the outermost edge of the frame antique gold-leaf that has darkened and rubbed off in patches. Inside this, a wide band, painted green like the patina on weathered copper. The next band is narrower, the distressed, gold-leaf pattern is repeated. The band of frame closest to the painting is very thin and gleams pink like polished copper.

The background of the portrait is sky-blue. Judith and Barbara’s heads and torsos fill most of the space. The women’s faces are in profile, Judith on the left, Barbara on the right. The friends are connected by their gaze as they look at each other, their arms which reach across, and their upper bodies that seem to merge towards the bottom of the portrait.

The figures are not ‘life like’. Judith and Barbara’s silhouetted profiles are simplified and exaggerated in an almost cartoon like way. This simplicity, the defined line between their forms, together with the blue background gives the women the quality of collage paper cut-outs.

A limited colour palette of blue, red, yellow, white, and black has been chosen, and is blended in places to create green, purple, lighter and darker shades., Paint has been applied unevenly, with some thick streaks of colour, some areas washed with diluted colour, and other patches of the brown paper left bare.

Judith is slightly shorter. Her face turns towards her friend. Judith’s silhouette is simplified and geometric. A tall rectangle with triangular nose jutting out. She has a cropped red fringe, her eye, which slants down at the outer edge and seems to look up towards her friend, is a red outline and smudges of blue on the eyelids and iris. Judith’s cheek is a pink blur and the rest of her skin is the warm beige of the paper. Her cheek has been accentuated by a patch of translucent white. Judith’s lips have a purple-grey hue, and turn down, following the same angle as her eye. The rest of her hair - in blue, green, and red - falls straight down, ending in a blunt line level with her chin. Her hair is irregular vertical dashes, except at the ends, which are round dabs. Barbara’s large hand protectively cups the back of Judith’s head with her splayed fingers.

Judith’s torso faces forward. She is wearing a V-neck, sleeveless garment in blue-grey, on it, thick brush strokes roughly repeat it’s shape getting smaller and smaller. Judith’s left hand is emerging to clasp Barbara’s left shoulder.

Between the two figures the women seem to merge; at Judith’s forehead and Barbara’s hat brim; where Barbara’s arm extends out and across to her friend, and at the bottom where their bodies blend together, shoulder to breast. Blue space between them is emphasised by darker shading around the women’s profiles.

Barbara Blackman wears a hat with a low crown and wide brim, it casts a shadow over her brow. Barbara’s hair falls straight then flicks out slightly where it ends in line with her bottom lip. The shape of her hair is outlined in feathery black- blue brush strokes and filled in with soft, vertical smudges of deep-blue, rust-red, pale-blue and yellow.

The women are both in profile, Barbara’s head is wider at her forehead than her chin. Her broad nose extends down in a vertical line from her hat brim, her chin receding. Her eye, which meets Judith’s, has its upper eyelid delineated in black; a dark black and blue iris, a thick blue smudge for the lower lid. Her skin is a faint white, over the raw paper and there is a tinge of pink on her cheek. Her lips are two lines of rich red that turn up gently at the edge.

Barbara wears a light grey, round-necked, long sleeved garment. Her body turns towards Judith as the friends embrace.

Audio description written by Lucie Shawcross and voiced by Emma Bedford

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Judith Wright with Barbara Blackman

c. 1956
Charles Blackman OBE

oil on paper laid down on board (frame: 115.4 cm x 149.7 cm, support: 97.0 cm x 131.0 cm)

Barbara Blackman AO (b. 1928), poet, writer and philanthropist, was just fifteen when the ABC Weekly published one of her poems. She became a member of Brisbane’s literary circle, joining the writers’ group ‘Barjai’ which included Judith Wright. In 1950 she was diagnosed with optic atrophy, and she was declared blind by the age of 22. Moving to Sydney to study, she met artist Charles Blackman; they married in 1952. As he brought forth his signature series of paintings, incorporating schoolgirls, flowers and Alice in Wonderland scenes, she was his muse. The couple were friends with Judith Wright (1915-2000), poet, literary critic, editor, and fiction writer – who was deaf - and her husband Jack McKinney. When this painting came up for auction at Sotheby’s in Melbourne in 2008 it was titled Two schoolgirls, but art historian Felicity Moore and Barbara Blackman confirmed that it was a painting of Blackman in profile wearing a hat of Wright’s, her hand spread protectively over her friend’s ear. Moore suggests that the work was probably painted from memory when the Blackmans were staying at the McKinneys’ house, but Judith and Jack were away. Blackman left the paper bare on the faces and skin of the two women, as at this stage of his career, he had to economise on paint where he could.

Gift of Joanna McNiven 2018. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.
© Charles Blackman/Copyright Agency, 2023

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

Charles Blackman OBE (age 28 in 1956)

Judith Wright (age 41 in 1956)

Barbara Blackman AO (age 28 in 1956)

Donated by

Joanna McNiven (1 portrait)

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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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