Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Janet Daw­son, Sum­mer (1986). Col­lec­tion Na­tional Por­trait Gallery, Can­berra. Pur­chased 2000, part gift of Michael Boddy. On dis­play in ex­hi­bi­tion The Pop­u­lar Pet Show, Na­tional Por­trait Gallery, Can­berra, un­til March 13. It was mid­sum­mer 1986. Play­wright and farmer Michael Boddy had been work­ing out­side on his farm, Scrib­ble Rock, which he shared with his wife, renowned artist Janet Daw­son.

“It was the hottest of days and I’d been work­ing out­side and came in to change,” Boddy later re­called. “The couch and its dust­cloth looked tempt­ing and there was a fan over­head, so I lay down naked mid-change to have a sleep.”

Daw­son walked in to get a can­vas she’d left in the room to do a land­scape. Boddy said to her: “I’m a land­scape. Do me. But I don’t want to look friendly and wel­com­ing.” And Daw­son did. She also added, in the bot­tom of the pic­ture, their beloved dog Lulu, a kelpie cross.

The paint­ing, Sum­mer, one of Daw­son’s most en­dear­ing por­traits of Boddy, is in the col­lec­tion of Can­berra’s Na­tional Por­trait Gallery.

Daw­son says paint­ing the work was enor­mously sat­is­fy­ing. “I just hoed into it and it was all done in about three hours,” she says, adding: “He was a very good model. We were mar­ried for so long he knew how to pose. And he loved the paint­ing. It was of enor­mous pride to him.”

Daw­son and Boddy moved to Scrib­ble Rock in the NSW south­ern high­lands in 1974. They had taken the mo­men­tous de­ci­sion to leave Syd­ney de­spite both of them hav­ing suc­cess­ful ca­reers. Daw­son had fea­tured in the ground­break­ing The Field ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria, and in 1973 had won the Archibald Prize with a por­trait of Boddy. Mean­while her hus­band had achieved great suc­cess with plays such as The Le­gend of King O’Mal­ley and Ham­let on Ice.

Sum­mer is on dis­play in an ex­hi­bi­tion, The Pop­u­lar Pet Show, at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery. With its se­duc­tive paint­work and joy­ous ren­der­ing of flesh, its in­clu­sion in the ex­hi­bi­tion is thanks to Lulu the dog.

Ex­hi­bi­tion cu­ra­tor Sarah En­gle­dow says she chose the work be­cause Daw­son is a painter of renown and she wanted to show that se­ri­ous artists ad­dress the re­la­tion­ship be­tween peo­ple and their pets.

Daw­son says Lulu was an “af­fec­tion­ate lit­tle work­ing dog who was with us wher­ever we went. We shared ev­ery­thing with her.” Lulu lived to be 17. Boddy died in 2014, aged 80.

De­tail from Sum­mer, oil on can­vas, 122cm x 210cm

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