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Dame Mary Gilmore1891

by Ethel Anna Stephens

Mary Cameron (later Dame Mary Gilmore) was a 26-year-old schoolteacher, on the brink of abandoning her career to join socialist William Lane’s utopian resettlement expedition to Paraguay, when the artist Julian Ashton asked to paint her portrait. 

Recalling the experience some 60 years after, Gilmore claimed that she was ‘too diffident and shy’ to sit for him but agreed to let Ethel Stephens, Ashton’s first pupil and an emerging young professional painter, make a sketch of her. 

Though Gilmore’s mother liked the finished portrait, it did not impress Gilmore herself, who thought it ‘conventional and without fire’, stating, ‘I was very much alive and vital then’.