Melba goes to the National Gallery of Australia

Objects within the Grainger Museum collection are often requested by other museums and art galleries to contribute to their own exhibitions. Curator Dr. Heather Gaunt explains why our portrait of Nellie Melba by Baron Arpad Paszthory, is currently on loan to the National Gallery of Australia.

This portrait of Nellie Melba, one of the largest and most dramatic paintings in the Grainger Museum Collection, is currently on loan to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, for Cartier: The Exhibition.  Melba was one of the high-profile clients of the famous French jewellery house, and the NGA exhibition will feature a Cartier diamond stomacher brooch owned by Melba, alongside the Grainger portrait. The portrait was painted by Hungarian-born artist, Baron Arpad Paszthory (1867?–1946). Paszthory spent some 10 years in Melbourne at the turn of the last century, setting himself up as a celebrity portraitist and painting official figures, such as the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, and popular artists, such as actress and singer Nellie Stewart. We don’t know exactly when Paszthory painted his grand depiction of Melba, although we do know that by 1904 it was hanging in the dress circle vestibule in the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. With her busy travel and performance schedule, it is likely that Melba had only a brief ‘sitting’ for Paszthory, and that the artist probably drew upon some of the many photographs that were taken of Melba in the period to complete the work. Melba’s gown and string of pearls closely resemble those in a studio portrait taken by Australian photographer Walter Barnett in England, around 1902.

When the portrait of Melba returns from her spotlight appearance in Canberra, she will be gracing the exhibition at the Grainger Museum, Objects of Fame: Nellie Melba and Percy Grainger. This exhibition explores the concept of fame, and how these two brilliant and savvy musicians, Grainger and Melba, exploited the opportunities to build stellar international careers at the birth of the information age.

- Heather Gaunt, Curator, Collections and Exhibitions, Grainger Museum

Baron Arpad Paszthory, Madame Melba, c.1902-4, oil on canvas (210.7 x 125.6cm), Grainger Museum Collection, 00.5022

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