My go-to place when researching is the newspapers of the day, and the Australian National Library makes this easy. They digitise an ever-increasing number of Australian newspapers, plus many other resources such as images. The service is free, no subscription is required, and the search engine is easy to use. https://trove.nla.gov.au/
Norman Carter trained in Melbourne then moved to Sydney in 1903 with his friend Hugh McCrae. In that year they created a picture book “The Australian alphabet“. Carter did the drawings, and McCrae the “jingle”. Other newspaper illustrations followed in 1904.
- The trustees of the National Art Gallery paid their official visit of inspection to the Royal Art Society’s annual exhibition yesterday, with the result that they selected for the National Gallery the following work:-“A Study in Brown,” an oil painting by Norman Carter, £63. (SMH 27 Aug 1908, p6).
- No. 65, a young girl in brown, which has been bought by the trustees of the National Art Gallery, is a dignified portrait of a pensive young person; reclining at ease on the arm of her chair. The design is well arranged, and the color scheme quite pleasing. (the Daily Telegraph, 29 Aug 08, p11).
- Mr. Carter’s best work (in this exhibition, ed) Is the more sympathetic “A Study in Brown” (No. 65), an attractive portrait of a little girl leaning her cheek upon her hand, which has been added by the trustees to the national collection. (SMH 29 Aug 1908, p11).
- “Study in Brown” . . . is a little school girl sitting at ease ; its charm is not only in a pleasant harmony of colour, but also in the look of quiet animation on the childish face. (Clarence Examiner, 5 Sep 1908 p5).
- Wherever you sat, within view of that ordinary looking little girl in a brown frock,she compelled attention. In a brown study, with her chin resting on her hand, and her brown eyes looking straight at you, she stood out on a canvas-covered wall as a thing of life. (The Australian Star, 18 Sep 1908, p4).
- . . . ‘A Study in Brown,’ the subject being a girl of twelve years reclining in a chair; is not a particularly interesting subject, nor is the pose and colour scheme especially attracting; but the quality of the work is exquisite. (The Newsletter, 5 Sep 1908, p4).
Of the twelve works Norman Carter exhibited in that show, the only one to be purchased by the art gallery was “Study in Brown”. Lucy, at the time, was a twelve-year-old schoolgirl, and yes, I’ll grant, – impoverished, illegitimate Lucy probably wasn’t a “particularly interesting subject” in comparison to all the other “eminent” sitters who Norman Carter had already painted, and those he would go on to paint in years to come (including Sir P. G. Taylor, who I already wrote about in a completely unrelated post)
In her article “Artist on Canvas and Glass: the Stained Glass Work of Norman Carter”, Karla Whitmore says “In the early phase of his career Carter was influenced by the ‘low toned’ movement espoused by Max Meldrum, who also studied at the National Art School in Melbourne.”
Instinct, combined with the reasoning built up from our previous diggings, tells me that Lucy was a paid sitter for the life art classes, and that Norman Carter, mimicking the way he had been taught, set his students a lesson to paint in brown tones. No doubt he would have painted along with his students.
The result, in my mind, was that this ‘Study in Brown‘; a depiction of an ordinary, un-named, twelve-year-old schoolgirl, a portrait owned by the NSW Art Gallery, closely fitting the description given by my aunt and JA’s grandmother, was in fact, Lucy Elizabeth Creft, born on the 15th September 1895.
A hunch, however, would not cut it as irrefutable proof if we were claim that to the NSW Art Gallery.
So where else could we turn for proof?
On the subject of “eminent” sitters, there is also mention of a drawing of Professor David who was away with Ernest Shackleton on his Nimrod Expedition to Antarctica. The article had the good grace to mention the lot of the wife left behind while her husband went off adventuring. This drawing, signed by Carter and dated 1911, is held by the New England Regional Art Museum. If the date is correct then it was done after his return. I wonder what became of the 1907 one mentioned in the newspaper article?
Demolition 76 Pitt Street 1927
BY NORMAN CARTER
Sydney in the 1900s was being transformed and modernised by removing many colonial buildings. Wide-scale demolition soon reshaped the city’s character and skyline.
In 1927, Vickery’s Chambers, at 76 Pitt St, fell to the path of progress. This building had special significance for Norman Carter, who lectured in art at the Sydney Technical College, and for Sydney University’s architecture department through to the 1940s. Carter had previously rented a studio in Vickery’s Chambers, and taught life classes there for the NSW Royal Art Society. Carter was also Vice President of the Society of Artists which had its meeting rooms there . . .Source: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales