Currently on display at Bendigo Art Gallery, nestled between still lifes and interiors by Madge Freeman and Emma Minnie Boyd, is a quietly poignant work ‘Girl on couch’ by Australian artist Agnes Goodsir.
Working mainly in oils, Goodsir painted many genre pieces, still lifes and interiors, however, her primary interest and best work was in portraiture.
Born in Portland in 1864, Goodsir studied under Arthur T Woodward at the Bendigo School of Mines during 1889-99. Woodward encouraged his students to study in Paris, and Goodsir took her teacher's advice to heart, travelling to Paris to continue her training.
Goodsir remained in Paris until 1905, exhibiting with the Old Salon in 1901-2 and with the New Salon in 1902-4. Then she made a six-month trip home to Victoria.
She returned to London in 1906, where she mainly lived until after WWI. She was included in the 'Australians abroad’ section of the 1907 Melbourne Women’s Work Exhibition, and from 1913 she exhibited regularly at the Royal Institute. Her work was first displayed at the Royal Academy in 1914, and in 1915 she exhibited ‘A letter from the front’, subsequently retitled ‘Girl on couch’.
Goodsir achieved considerable success overseas during her lifetime. Her work responded to the trends of the Paris art scene, and she thrived in the artistic, bohemian lifestyle that the city was known for.
Early in 1927, Agnes Goodsir returned to Australia for a solo exhibition at the Fine Arts Gallery, Melbourne, and at Sydney’s Macquarie Galleries.
She painted local landscapes and undertook portrait commissions, including one of AB (Banjo) Paterson for the Mitchell Library and another of Eadith Walker for the Thomas Walker Hospital at Concord, NSW. Within Australia however, she received minimal recognition, selling only a small number of works. She returned to Paris later that year, where she remained until her death in 1939.
Goodsir bequeathed all of her paintings to Rachel Dunn (known as Cherry), her long-time companion, who immediately sent approximately 40 works home to Goodsir’s family in Australia; others went to Daryl Lindsay in 1947 to be distributed to Australian public galleries.
Bendigo Art Gallery is fortunate to have five works by Agnes Goodsir in the permanent collection, two of which are currently on display.
Free guided tours of the collection are provided daily at 11am and 2pm, all welcome.