Skip to main content

Judith Wright with Barbara Blackman
, c.1956

by 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, Canberra
Gift of Joanna McNiven 2018
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2018.13