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Norman Carter (1875-1963)
Fernande 1922
oil on canvas
120 x 83 cm
Gift of the Artist 1932 or before


Born 1875, Melbourne. Died 1963, Sydney.

This life size portrait attracted much attention and praise when it was exhibited as a finalist in the 1922 Archibald Prize. The subject is a French girl, Fernande Nicolle, whose mother kept a well known cafe in Rouen frequented by many Australian soldiers. It was here that Sergeant Butler, a Gallipoli survivor, met his bride-to-be. They were married before the war was over, but remained in France until 1920, when they settled in Sydney.

Fernande was a sought-after model in the early 1920s. She appeared many times in Sydney Ure Smith's Home journal. Apart from Norman Carter, she sat for Thea Proctor and photographers, and was in a popular silent film A Daughter of Australia (1922). Carter's portrait was reported to be “one of the most immediately striking paintings on the walls” at the 1923 exhibition at the Millions Club in Sydney. It was specially mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald article about its inclusion in the 1924 Australian exhibit at the Palace of Arts, Wembley Park London.

The sitter wears a simple dress with matching hat and short bob hairstyle. She meets the viewer's eye with a playful expression. One hand twirls her beaded necklace, whilst the position of her left hand on the chair's arm support draws the eye downwards. She is seated with legs crossed, lit from behind in a studio setting, causing strong contrasts of light and shadow.