Curator's Insight - The girl in the yellow hat
TRACEY LOCK examines Goodchild’s charming portrait
The girl in the yellow hat, 1946, casts new light on Doreen Goodchild’s contribution to the story of Australian art. We are only now beginning to become more aware of the breadth of the talents of this Adelaide-born artist, whose career was somewhat overshadowed by her customary multiple responsibilities as a wife and mother in the first half of the twentieth century. While her role in the development of South Australian decorative arts as a gifted ceramicist gained wider public recognition in the early 1980s, her more private painting practice was only recently comprehensively showcased in an exhibition of her work at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts.
An exhibition highlight was this charming portrait, The girl in the yellow hat. It portrays the artist’s daughter, Judith, and is an exquisite personal expression of a mother’s affection for her young daughter. The work exudes a sunny, youthful sense of contentment, emphasised by the sitter’s gentle smile and matching golden wide-brimmed hat and blouse. The painting shows Goodchild’s versatility for imparting the quality of the local sparkling, transparent light through its luminous skin tones, pure yellow hue and the sharply focused rendering of her daughter’s facial features. It is an arresting symbol of optimistic post-war life in Adelaide.
With an early interest in reformist Ruskinian ideas and the accompanying elevation of the handmade object, in 1917 Goodchild commenced her studies at the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts. At that time the school was renowned for its focus on design principles and particularly studio pottery, at which Goodchild excelled. Moving to Sydney with her family the following year, she continued her artistic tuition, studying with the influential and progressive teacher, the Italian-born Antonio Dattilo Rubbo.
Following her marriage to the artist John Goodchild, in 1926 the couple followed the call of modernism to Europe, and Doreen commenced a three-year study tour, which would inspire the rich artistic lives of this Adelaide couple. The influence of Doreen’s London studies was enduring, and the strong draughtsmanship apparent in The girl in the yellow hat most likely points to her training twenty years earlier at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts under the celebrated teacher, the British modernist, Bernard Meninsky.
This new addition to the Australian art collection was supported by one of the Gallery’s most engaged benefactors, David McKee, who was a former personal friend of the Goodchilds.
Tracey Lock is Curator of Australian Art at AGSA. This article first appeared in AGSA Magazine Issue 37.