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