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Adelaide Perry Mrs Mary Gilmore

oil on plywood panel on composition board

45.3 x 35.5 cm

Image courtesy National Library of Australia, Canberra

This portrait by Adelaide Perry of writer Mary Gilmore (nee Cameron, 1865–1962) is now in the collection of the National Library of Australia with the title Portrait of Dame Mary Gilmore.

Gilmore was a passionate campaigner for a wide range of social reforms, including women’s suffrage and emancipation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Australia’s poor. A celebrated public figure and doyenne of Sydney’s literary world, she is featured on Australia’s $10 banknote. Portraits of Gilmore were included in the Archibald 11 times by eight artists.

Perry’s artistic career began in Melbourne at the National Gallery School. Awarded a travelling art scholarship in 1920, she attended London’s Royal Academy under Walter Sickert, later working in Paris. In Sydney, she established herself as an artist and role model for generations of artists, both through the Adelaide Perry School of Art and her 30-year-tenure as art mistress at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Croydon.

In the interwar period, Perry exhibited with Contemporary Group artists, including Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith, whose work represents the first significant wave of modernist culture in Australia. She was also a member of the more established Society of Artists and later the Australian Academy of Art, thereby traversing Sydney’s contemporary and conservative artistic circles.