THE Art Gallery of Ballarat has acquired a unique portrait of two young girls by Sir Hubert von Herkomer. This is a supreme example of late Victorian portraiture by one of England’s best known and fashionable portrait painters of the late 19th century. Gallery Director Gordon Morrison said it is very unusual for a regional gallery to acquire something of this caliber.
“We were swayed because of the family’s connection to the region the aristocratic Molesworth family has a large pastoral property south of Ballan, and the painting has lived on that property for many years,” Mr Morrison said.
“Hubert Herkomer was born to a poor family in Bavaria in 1849, the family moved to Cleveland Ohio but the business failed and then they moved to England when Hubert was 8 years old. “He was a precocious artist and was recognised as such from a very early age.” The Molesworth family connection dates back to the late 1880s when a local Melbourne surgeon (Dr Jones) went back to the ‘old country’ and commissioned Herkomer to paint his two daughters, this work then came down by descent through Frances, who ended up marrying into the Molesworth family. “When I first saw this painting I was just bowled over, it’s just so strong in its composition, so interesting, ultimately it’s those totally engaging faces of Frances and Roma, so direct, just a really, really powerful image,” Mr Morrison said. “In short term this will go into the Oddie Gallery and at some point on time I would love the see the faces of those two girls looking down on people from the landing in the foyer. “It’s a wonderful work and very unusual for a regional gallery now to acquire a work of international art, we tend to have very nationalist manifestos these days and we are only allowed to acquire things Australian but in this case we have got two Australian girls and the Rosella, as well.” Gallery Foundation Trustee Daryl Powell added that the gallery would not have been in a position to purchase this particular art work had it not been for the generosity of sponsors.
“I saw the painting before it was restored and whilst it was in reasonable good condition it certainly needed some significant work to make it look like it does today,” he said. “We were very lucky to have the support of a friend of the gallery; Patricia Macdonald, who funded the restoration. Interestingly her husband has a family connection to the Jones girls who are in the portrait.”
One of Frances’ 18 grandchildren, Prof. Simon Molesworth said this was a tremendously significant event for the family. “I for one and I’m sure all members of the family are thrilled that the painting will now be in the public domain so as the years pass by generation after generation of the family will have easy access to the painting,” he said.