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Australian art

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(Woman with bear skin)



Dora Ohlfsen


22 Aug 1869 - 07 Feb 1948


Dora Ohlfsen, born in Ballarat, Victoria in 1869 rose to artistic promise at an early age. Her European roots stemmed from parents of Scandinavian descent, who had migrated to Australia to prosper in the newfound colonies. The Olfsen-Bagge family upbringing nurtured talents in music, languages and the arts. Fluent in German, and distinguished as an accomplished student of piano, Dora Ohlfsen studied music in Berlin under the skilled composer Moritz Moszkowski, however a sudden onset of neuritis in her arm hindered a professional music career. In St. Petersburg, she met with her lifelong partner, the well-connected Elena von Kügelgen, and the pair freely participated in Russian social and cultural events before eventually moving to Italy in 1902.

Ohlfsen’s interest in sculpture began in Russia, where she was encouraged by the Tsarist royal elites to further study painting during the ‘Silver Age’, a moment at the end 19th Century where the spirituality and mysticism of Russian culture experienced a rediscovery of its past. Further experiences in the French Academy in Rome from renowned artists and teachers such as the French sculptor Camille Alaphilippe influenced Ohlfsen to work across different materials, and progressed her portrait work into sculpture and intimate statuettes including 'Woman with bear skin' (1920).

In 'Woman with bear skin', Ohlfsen follows the traditional modelling of the female figure through the classical contrapposto pose, yet the work is also imbued with a more individualised sense of intimacy. The bear skin at the figure’s feet suggests a contemporary, ‘live’ setting against the conventional posture of the figure. The figure connects to that in Ohlfsen’s celebrated medallion 'The Awakening of Australian art' (1907), a work which sealed the artist’s reputation with its elegant and energised rendition of the female form. The appeal of this subject clearly remained with Ohlfsen and in 'Woman with bear skin' she elaborates on her earlier allegorical rendition and models the figure as one that is actively present.


Other Title

Femme à la peau d'ours



Media category


Materials used

bronze on stone base


47.5 18.0 x 26.8 cm :

a - statuette, 44.5 x 17.2 x 25.8 cm

b - stone base, 3 x 18 x 26.8 cm

Signature & date

Signed l.l., incised "DORA OHLFSEN". Not dated


Gift of Michael Cain and Ian Adrian 2019

Accession number


Artist information

Dora Ohlfsen

Artist profile

Works in the collection