National Gallery Acquires Paintings By Three Remarkable Women

Women artists National Gallery Lemon and grey, by Alison Rehfisch (1933).
The National Gallery: representing more women artists, with Lemon and grey, by Alison Rehfisch (1933).

Three significant works by women artists have been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, including the beautiful painting, Lemon and grey, pictured above. Painted in 1933 by Australian artist Alison Rehfisch, its acquisition is part of a deliberate strategy to address the under-representation of women in the national collection.

The acquisition of the paintings – which also include Ethel Carrick’s Esquisse en Australie and Bessie Davidson’s Tulips with white pot – was announced this week to coincide with International Women’s Day.

On International Women’s Day last year, the National Gallery launched a Gender Equity Action Plan; this week it announced it had met its gender equity commitments over the past 12 months. According to its figures for 2022, women artists were represented in 55% of total works acquired, 64% of works in special exhibitions; and 44% of works in touring exhibitions.

Tulips with white pot, by Bessie Davidson, c 1935.
Tulips with white pot, by Bessie Davidson, c 1935.

Dr Deborah Hart, Henry Dalrymple Head Curator, Australian Art, said the three new paintings reflect the Gallery’s commitment to acquiring exceptional works by women artists and amplifying their role in Australian art history.

“Ethel Carrick was one of the most significant female artists working in the early 20th century,” Dr Hart said. “Our new acquisition, Esquisse en Australie (1908), is a key work in her career that is also one of the first post-Impressionist paintings by a woman artist painted in Australia that will help us retell the stories of art in this country.

“Australian artist Bessie Davidson’s painting Tulips with white pot was created in her Parisian studio in the mid-1930s and is one of her most resolved and accomplished works. While Davidson is represented in a number of public gallery collections, like many artists who spent much of their career overseas, she is often overshadowed by artists working locally.

“The delicate balance of pattern, colour and tone, enforces Lemon and grey as one of Alison Rehfisch’s great achievements as a painter.’’

Esquisse en Australie [Sketch in Australia], by Ethel Carrick, 1908.
Esquisse en Australie [Sketch in Australia], by Ethel Carrick, 1908.

The Gallery will continue to seek significant works by underrepresented Australian women artists. Its 2023 artistic program also reinforces its commitment to gender equity, with exhibitions by Anmatyerre artist, Emily Kame Kngwarreye; Seoul and Berlin-based artist Haegue Yang; American photographer Nan Goldin (The Ballad of Sexual Dependency series); and Clarice Beckett, one of the most original Australian artists of early 20th century.

The national tour of Know My Name: Australian Women Artists begins at Mornington Peninsula in November. The National Gallery’s assistant director, Natasha Bullock, who led the Know My Name initiative, was this month announced as the ACT recipient of the Australian Awards for Excellence in Women’s Leadership for her advocacy work and the creation of the Gallery’s gender equity plan.

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