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Mary Edwards (1894-1988)
A Suva Girl 1937
oil on cardboard
34.1 x 33.3 cm
Gift of Howard Hinton 1938

 

Born 1894, Sydney. Died 1988, Fiji.

Also known as Mary Edwell Burke, the artist studied at East Sydney Technical College in the 1920s and subsequently designed and painted fabrics and scarves for sale. By 1927 she had occupied a studio in Paris, studied at the Academy Colarossi, and been hung in the Paris Salon. She exhibited with the Royal Art Society in the 1920s and with the Australian Watercolour Institute in 1935-45. In the mid-1930s she showed with the Macquarie and Lodestar Galleries.

She visited many Pacific islands, particularly Fiji, and subsequently executed many paintings of the native people of Fiji, Java, New Caledonia and Tahiti in an elaborate and colourful style, admirably suited to the tropical subject matter. She was a regular contributor to the Archibald Prize, having her 1936 Self Portrait entry purchased by the Art Gallery of NSW. Edwards was one of the artists who launched the landmark lawsuit against the Trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW when William Dobell was awarded the 1943 Archibald Prize for what some saw as a caricature, rather than a portrait, of fellow artist Joshua Smith. Taking her parents’ name of Edwell Burke, she moved permanently to Fiji in 1945 and later in life denied her earlier Australian 'Mary Edwards' work.

A Suva Girl is one of four works by this artist in the Hinton Collection. It depicts the head of a girl turning to look up at the viewer, as if she'd just been tapped on the shoulder. This sense of casual movement and her friendly smile make for a joyful image. Her copper-coloured short hair, textured green background and white blouse emphasise her smooth dark skin. It was likely purchased at the artist's exhibition at Macquarie Galleries in October 1937, which included several small works depicting Fiji girls. After being donated to the Armidale Teachers' College this painting was on display in its Library.