We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


(Neoclassical nudes)

circa 1931


Dorothy Thornhill


1910 – 1987

  • Details

    Other Titles
    Neo-classical nudes
    circa 1931
    Media category
    Materials used
    oil on canvas
    55.9 x 70.0 cm
    Signature & date

    Signed, l.r. corner, incised "D. ThoRNHiLL". Not dated.

    Purchased with support of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales through the Elizabeth Fyffe Bequest 2023
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Estate of Dorothy Thornhill

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Dorothy Thornhill

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Dorothy Thornhill was born in England and emigrated to New Zealand as a child, commencing her art studies in Auckland before the family settled in Sydney in 1929. She enrolled at East Sydney Technical College where she studied life drawing and painting alongside peers such as Barbara Tribe and Jean Appleton, with whom she hosted an after-hours sketch club. From 1933 to 1934, Thornhill studied at the Royal Academy School in London, focussing on life drawing, and attended lectures at the Courtauld Institute.

    For almost four decades, Thornhill was an influential teacher at East Sydney Technical College and was known throughout her life as an impeccable draughtsperson. Students vied for places in her life classes, and artists such as Justin O’Brien, Jeffrey Smart, Bryan Westwood and Brian Dunlop returned to learn from her even once they had established careers.

    Thornhill married the artist Douglas Dundas in 1941 and the two shared a studio in George Street during the 1940s. As well as exhibiting frequently in group shows, Thornhill presented solo exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries in 1940 and 1948 and a retrospective exhibition in 1977. She continued to draw and paint across genres, including flower still lifes, landscapes and figuration; her figure-painting subjects taking on softer, more voluptuous forms.

    Thornhill’s early paintings of the female figure remain amongst the most significant of her works, and the most inspired imaging of the modern woman during the interwar period. In her extant paintings, Thornhill’s forthright images of women’s bodies and their unabashed sexuality are among the first of their kind by an Australian painter. Included in these works is the art deco inspired tableau '(Neoclassical nudes)'. Thornhill arranged four statuesque female figures in the utopic space of a pastel-draped Greco-Roman interior. The nudes’ musculature fuses ideals of Australian health and beauty with a classical past; the distant coastal view as likely Thornhill’s local Bondi Beach as a Mediterranean vista.

    The years between the First and Second World Wars saw a revival of realism in art that developed in tandem with abstraction. Artworks alluding to classical Greek sculpture, featuring bodies of enhanced strength and robust sexuality, were a reaction to the ravages of war. '(Neoclassical nudes)' offers an art deco synthesis of the stylised and the real, combining the figures’ modern helmet haircuts and thinly-pencilled brows with features of an ancient past. Thornhill emphasises this continuity in the repeated curves of archways, fabric and the women’s backs. The skill and sensitivity of her composition is beautifully expressed in the elegant mirroring of the third figure’s gesture in the vertical mirror.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 3 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 6 publications

Other works by Dorothy Thornhill

See all 10 works