Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information, including hours




Australian art


View More:


'Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind'

circa 1939


Olive Cotton


11 Jul 1911 - 27 Sep 2003


‘Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind’ appears to have been the only print Cotton made of this image. It was found in the late 1990s and has been shown only once, in an exhibition at the AGNSW in 2000 where it was also used on the catalogue cover. It was unusual for Cotton to print so large, yet it is entirely fitting that this monumental head and shoulder shot of a beautiful young woman should be presented in this way. The subject was a model on a fashion shoot at which Cotton was probably assisting. Cotton often took her own photographs while on such shoots and used them for her private portfolio. The photograph transcends portraiture, fashion and time to become a remarkable image of harmony with the elements.

Cotton took the title for this photograph from an 1895 poem by English poet Laurence Binyon, 'O summer sun':
O summer sun, O moving trees!
O cheerful human noise, O busy glittering street!
What hour shall Fate in all the future find,
Or what delights, ever to equal these:
Only to taste the warmth, the light, the wind,
Only to be alive, and feel that life is sweet?1

A photographer whose work straddles pictorialism, modernism and documentary, Cotton maintained an independent vision throughout her working life, based on the close observation of nature. Her understanding of the medium of photography was not to do with capture, but rather ‘drawing with light’.

1. 1915, ‘Poems of today’, English Association, London p 96

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007



circa 1939

Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph, vintage


33.2 x 30.0 cm image/sheet; 41.8 x 35.4 cm original mount

Signature & date

Signed l.r. mount, pencil "Olive Cotton". Not dated.


Purchased with funds provided by John Armati 2006


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Olive Cotton

Works in the collection


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The photograph and portraiture', pg.15-31, Sydney, 2007, 17 (illus.), 28 (illus.).

Judy Annear, The photograph and Australia, Sydney, Jun 2015, 103 (colour illus.).

Helen Ennis, Olive Cotton, Sydney, 2000, cover (illus.), 64 (illus.).