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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.

Judith Wright with Barbara Blackman, c. 1956

Charles Blackman

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.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Joanna McNiven 2018
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
© Charles Blackman/Copyright Agency, 2020

Accession number: 2018.13

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Charles Blackman (age 28 in 1956)

Judith Wright (age 41 in 1956)

Barbara Blackman AO (age 28 in 1956)

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.

Big bouquet of Blackmans

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2013

Dr. Sarah Engledow explores the context surrounding Charles Blackman's portrait of Judith Wright, Jack McKinney and their daughter Meredith.

Interview with Meredith McKinney video: 2 minutes
Interview with Meredith McKinney video: 2 minutes
Interview with Meredith McKinney video: 2 minutes
Interview with Meredith McKinney video: 2 minutes

The Family

by Charles Blackman

Portrait story

Meredith McKinney, subject of Charles Blackman's 'The Family', recounts memories from her childhood and the creation of the portrait.

Sydney city (Patrick White and Tom Uren, Hiroshima Day demonstration), 1984
Sydney city (Patrick White and Tom Uren, Hiroshima Day demonstration), 1984
Sydney city (Patrick White and Tom Uren, Hiroshima Day demonstration), 1984
Sydney city (Patrick White and Tom Uren, Hiroshima Day demonstration), 1984

The activist A-list

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2007

Dr Sarah Engledow examines a number of figures in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery who were pioneers or substantial supporters of the seminal Australian environmental campaigns of the early 1970s and 1980s.

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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.