Item #CL205-11 Christmas Bells. Mary Stoddard, c1852–1901 Aust.
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Christmas Bells

1886. Watercolour and gouache highlight, signed and dated lower left, annotated in pencil in an unknown hand on frame verso, 45.9 x 35.9cm. Slight discolouration to paper, foxing. Framed.

This is the original watercolour for the accompanying framed colour supplement printed by John Sands and published in The Illustrated Sydney News on 18 December 1886.

Born in Edinburgh, Mary Stoddard “clearly inherited her ability to depict finely detailed portraits from her father, a noted miniature artist. Indeed, by the age of fifteen this artistic prodigy had begun exhibiting with the Royal Scottish Academy. Once she emigrated to Australia in 1880 Stoddard was soon hailed by The Bulletin as absolutely unrivalled…as a painter of women and children (19 June 1886, p16). This particular compliment, one of many the artist received from the colonial press in her lifetime, was specifically prompted by her watercolour Christmas Bells. This work had won an astonishing 100 pounds, awarded for an image to be reproduced as a colour supplement for The Illustrated Sydney News. This was today’s equivalent of $25,000, and Stoddard overcame all local competition and took the prize. (Earlier still she had won John Sands’ Christmas design competition in 1881 and an 1883 competition for a full-page colour plate in The Sydney Mail, 22 September). Stoddard’s Christmas Bells was therefore published as a full-page colour plate in the Christmas edition of The Illustrated Sydney News (18 December 1886).

“It is easy to see why it received wide acclaim, presenting the detailed observation and delicate finish which local critics found so laudable in her work. To today’s art historians it is a welcome and diametric contrast to more prevalent images of children in the Australian bush at the time. To such works as Frederick McCubbin’s pair of paintings in the National Gallery of Victoria collection: The Lost Child (1886) and Lost (1907). Stoddard’s idyllic rejoinder is to depict a child wholly at ease in the Australian bush, safe and cosseted and as natural a denizen there as the flowers and insects which surround her.

“In Australian art, genre paintings like this which concentrate solely and imaginatively on a child sitter are particularly rare. An example of this size and quality, with its outdoor (rather than studio) setting and its sentiment, is virtually without precedent. Christmas Bells is more than an evocation of tender childhood; with its innocence and promise it is a depiction of Young Australia itself.” Ref: Robert Holden, art historian & curator.

Item #CL205-11

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