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Self portrait as Sarah Wisse, Transported, 1996

Margaret Woodward

oil on canvas (frame: 218.5 cm x 167.0 cm depth 5.0 cm, support: 206.0 cm x 154.5 cm)

Margaret Woodward (b. 1938), painter, grew up in Sydney where she gained a scholarship to study art at the NAS. While still a student, she won the Le Gay Brereton Prize for Drawing; she has since participated in countless solo and group exhibitions. From 1961 to 1971 she taught at various secondary schools and colleges; from 1972 to 1978 she taught at the West Australian Institute of Technology in Perth; from 1979 to 1985 she taught at Hornsby College of TAFE. Meanwhile, from 1967 she travelled widely through remote areas of Australia and abroad. She won the Wynne Prize in 1971 and the Portia Geach Memorial Awards in both 1983 and 1984. Recipient of a number of smaller prizes, she has been an Archibald finalist seven times, several times with self-portraits, of which she has made many over the course of her career (the ‘horned’ turban is characteristic.) The Art Gallery of New South Wales has four of her works and she is represented in a number of regional galleries.

In this portrait Margaret Woodward refers to a distant relative, Sarah Wisse or Wise. Said to have stolen one and a half cheeses and a small amount of clothing, Wisse was transported to New South Wales on the Indispensable in 1795-1796. Having partnered a John Roberts, she lived on Norfolk Island and then in Sydney. Between 1797 and 1815 she appears to have borne ten children.

The artist states that the fish in the painting make reference to the ‘actual presence of the sea, and food and security for Sarah’ on Norfolk Island. Referring to John 21:11, she writes that

[It] also alludes to the notion of the miraculous draught of fishes, where, by being required to put a net out on the other side of life’s boat, success was achieved, together with a new beginning. (In the Biblical story, 153 fishes were caught . . . I have simplified this to a symbolic 9 (1+5+3 . . . according to the Qabala [Kabbalah], this number indicates a point of resolution between the negative and the positive . . . The cup and saucer: It is to be hoped that for Sarah, her new life was an acceptable one, and to her liking (her cup of team one might say). The hints of text are like graffiti, and are excerpts from Sarah’s judgement, seen between the barred background. She carries a bundle in her arms, representing the items she was suspected of having stolen (the loot). The painting is really concerned with the notion of judgement and time (indeed, it was an Archibald Prize entry and is not without additional covert touches of humour).

The painting was a finalist in the Archibald Prize of 1996.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the Karmel family in memory of Lena and Peter Karmel 2018
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2018.138

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Margaret Woodward (age 58 in 1996)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

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