In this Archibald-winning work, Judy Cassab has portrayed her friend and fellow émigré Stanislaus (also spelled Stanislav) Rapotec (1913–1997), a self-taught artist, whose raw, expressive abstractions burst onto Sydney’s art scene in the 1950s.
It was only the second time that a woman had won the Archibald, with both artist and sitter attracting the attention of the Australian public and media. Cassab was already a successful and sought-after portraitist, having won the inaugural Australian Women’s Weekly Portrait Prize in 1955. She was known for her ability to quickly capture her sitter’s likeness in her distinctive style. Rapotec rose to greater prominence when he won the 1961 Blake Prize for religious painting, with the first abstract work awarded the prize.
Cassab (the child of Hungarian parents) and Rapotec (who was born in Trieste when it was part of Austro-Hungarian empire) connected through their shared experiences as ‘New Australians’. During World War II, Rapotec had joined the Yugoslav Resistance, taking part in several courageous missions for the Allied Intelligence Forces. Cassab knew from a young age she would be an artist; however, her studies were interrupted by the Nazi occupation of Vienna. Arriving in Australia, Cassab found the acceptance of women as professional artists a difficult path to navigate. Nonetheless, she went on to win the Archibald Prize again in 1967. Her portrait of Rapotec is now in the Art Gallery of NSW collection.