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Australian art


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Fashion illustration (Patricia Tuckwell in black fish tail dress)



Athol Shmith


19 Aug 1914 - 21 Oct 1990


Athol Shmith enjoyed a 40-year career as Melbourne’s premier portrait and fashion photographer. In 1932, two of his portraits were published in the Melbourne society journal ‘Table Talk’, leading to work photographing society weddings, celebrities and socialites. Shmith’s career as a fashion photographer was an extension of his portrait work. There were very few professional models in Australia at the time, so he persuaded his wealthy clientele to pose in their latest fashions. Influenced by Horst, Hoyningen-Huene and Beaton, Shmith was renowned for his mastery of light and skilful retouching, which rendered complexions and figures flawless. His work was seen in ‘Table Talk’ and ‘The Home’, and in catalogues for Melbourne’s most prestigious fashion importers.

Shmith introduced Dior’s ‘New Look’ to the Australian public in 1948 when he photographed a parade of leading French models in Paris couture for the Melbourne Myer department store. By the 1950s, when Shmith took this striking image of Patricia Tuckwell, modelling had become a desirable career. Tuckwell poses between two contemporary paintings, suggesting the up-to-the-minute modishness of her look. The organic forms and abstract shapes of the artworks are echoed in the exaggerated lines of her black fishtail dress and wasp waist. While most of his work in the 1930s and 1940s had been studio based, Shmith, like many other international photographers, began photographing on locations such as this in the 1950s. His work, even into the 1960s, always retained its polished elegance and sophistication, whether shot in art galleries, on the street or in ruined buildings. Late in his life Shmith said: ‘I love daylight best of all, it’s got a painterly character, but is not a contrived source. Today, light is too easy, you can buy it all, every photographer has the same equipment and all the photographs end up looking the same.’ 1

1. Shmith A 1989, 'Sun Herald' magazine, Melbourne, 15 Oct p 26

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


Other Title

Bambi Tuckwell, Fashion Illustration



Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph, vintage


49.7 x 39.3 cm image; 50.1 x 39.7 cm sheet

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1980


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Athol Shmith

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 8 publications


Judy Annear, Discipline and Beauty - women, fashion, photography, Sydney, 1997. no catalogue numbers

Annette Cooper, Remembering Georges: stories from Melbourne's most elegant store, 'Nancy Balding', pg. 44-59, Melbourne, 2014, 52 (illus.), 53.

Robyn Daw (Curator), Architects of Glamour + Masters of Style: Excerpts from a Century of Fashion Photography, 2003. no catalogue numbers

Gael Newton, Silver and Grey - Fifty Years of Australian Photography 1900-1950, 1980. plate no. 112

Gael Newtown, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Photography - Australian, European and American', pg. 67-84, Sydney, 1981, 82 (illus.). 39

Ursula Prunster, Seeing is believing: the art in photography, Sydney, 1985. 41

Nicola Teffer, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Fashion and celebrity', pg.169-187, Sydney, 2007, 181 (illus.).

Author Unknown, Athol Shmith Contemporary Photographers Australia: 2, Melbourne, 1980.