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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Judith Wright with Barbara Blackman

c. 1956
Charles Blackman OBE

oil on paper laid down on board (frame: 115.4 cm x 149.7 cm, support: 97.0 cm x 131.0 cm)

Barbara Blackman AO (b. 1928), poet, writer and philanthropist, was just fifteen when the ABC Weekly published one of her poems. She became a member of Brisbane’s literary circle, joining the writers’ group ‘Barjai’ which included Judith Wright. In 1950 she was diagnosed with optic atrophy, and she was declared blind by the age of 22. Moving to Sydney to study, she met artist Charles Blackman; they married in 1952. As he brought forth his signature series of paintings, incorporating schoolgirls, flowers and Alice in Wonderland scenes, she was his muse. The couple were friends with Judith Wright (1915-2000), poet, literary critic, editor, and fiction writer – who was deaf - and her husband Jack McKinney. When this painting came up for auction at Sotheby’s in Melbourne in 2008 it was titled Two schoolgirls, but art historian Felicity Moore and Barbara Blackman confirmed that it was a painting of Blackman in profile wearing a hat of Wright’s, her hand spread protectively over her friend’s ear. Moore suggests that the work was probably painted from memory when the Blackmans were staying at the McKinneys’ house, but Judith and Jack were away. Blackman left the paper bare on the faces and skin of the two women, as at this stage of his career, he had to economise on paint where he could.

Gift of Joanna McNiven 2018. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.
© Charles Blackman/Copyright Agency, 2022

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.
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4 minutes 25 seconds
Show transcript

Artist and subject

Charles Blackman OBE (age 28 in 1956)

Judith Wright (age 41 in 1956)

Barbara Blackman AO (age 28 in 1956)

Donated by

Joanna McNiven (1 portrait)

© National Portrait Gallery 2022
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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency