This portrait of artist Estelle Mary (Jo) Sweatman (1872–1956) is now in the collection of the Castlemaine Art Museum, Victoria.
Sweatman, then aged 50, was one of 13 Archibald portraits by Alice Marian Ellen (AME) Bale, a prolific contributor in the early decades of the prize. It was painted the year of Bale’s first solo exhibition at the New Art Salon in Sydney.
Both artists were students alongside Max Meldrum at Melbourne’s National Gallery School under Frederick McCubbin and Bernard Hall. As council members of the Victorian Artists Society, in 1919 they were instrumental in forming – in sympathy with the aims and methods of Max Meldrum – the breakaway group Twenty Melbourne Painters, which flourished under Bale’s 36-year leadership. Exhibiting with the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, neither Sweatman nor Bale married or travelled overseas; however, Bale’s work was hung both at the Paris Salon and London’s Royal Academy. Sweatman gave much of her early career to portrait painting, later turning to landscape, particularly in Victoria’s Warrandyte region, with fellow Archibald contributor Winifred McCubbin, whose work also features in Archie 100.
Bale’s evocative portrayal of her friend reveals her unique approach to Meldrum’s tonalist method, and her reverence for the Dutch old masters Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer.