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William Boissevain

In their own words

Recorded 1965

William Boissevain
Audio: 2 minutes

When I was very young, I spent a lot of time on ships due to my parents being, or my father rather, being posted from country to country. During this time on ships I did a great deal of portrait work, quick sketches of people, and I had rather a facility with likenesses and I found it great fun to, at a very early age, to capture likeness and for this thing to be shown around. It was more or less a feeling of being able to do something that other children couldn’t, at that time, that gave me the impetus, and, of course, naturally, the very fact that I travelled so much gave me the sort of the yen to be able to record some of this in sketchbook form.

I work mostly from life, although lately I have been working from quite a few drawings which I have collected from various trips up north. In one case I stayed in Broome, and I did quite a number of studies of Aboriginals lounging on benches which are supplied by the various stores on the verandahs, and I found that most interesting from the point of view of composition and so on. The studies of these people intrigue me.

In my portraits, I try and achieve a likeness which is naturally of great importance, although life is necessary also. If a portrait’s simply a likeness and nothing else, it lacks any interest to the viewer, although in this case I bring in the viewer, I mean also satisfaction to the artist himself. This is a very difficult thing to achieve in a portrait – that is a life. Now some sitters are definitely less interesting than others, so if a portrait is a failure in that way, it’s very likely that the sitter is partly to blame as well as the artist. When I say ‘blame’, I meant a thing again which they can’t help, it is simply the personality is not as strong, as say, in another person.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of William Boissevain is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Audio source

National Library of Australia, Hazel de Berg collection

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William Boissevain

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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.

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