The Australian painter Agnes Noyes Goodsir was born in Portland, Victoria, the daughter of the Commissioner of Customs at Melbourne. She started her art education at the Bendigo School of Mines in the 1890s, and in 1899, she moved to Paris to continue her studies. From about 1912 she shuttled between London and Paris, but finally settled in Paris at 18 Rue de l'Odéon. Agnes Goodsir moved within lesbian circles in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, her constant companion was Rachel Dunn, known as Cherry and depicted in several of her paintings, such as Girl with Cigarette 1925, The Letter 1926.
Her work was extremely successful and exhibited at the New Salon, the Salon des Indépendants, the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts, at the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute in London.
Her major interest was in painitng portraits and some of her sitters were Count Leo Tolstoy, Dame Eadith Walker, Dame Ellen Terry, Countess Pinci, Bertrand Russel, and, reportedly, Italian leader Benito Mussolini.
After the artist's death, Rachel Dunn sent some 40 paintings to Agnes's family in Australia and others to Australian galleries.
Here's an interesting transcript of Australian Broadcasting Corporation report on Australian painters who flocked to Paris in the early 1920s.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Paris, that romantic city on the Seine has long been a drawcard for Australians and especially Australian artists. Back in the 20’s and 30’s Australian painters flocked to France in droves to develop their skills, absorb their avant-garde and savour fine food and wine, that they could afford.
It was no coincidence many artists were women escaping the parochialism and domestic strictures that so dominated life back home. Leading the way was Bendigo woman Agnes Goodsir. Now her home city is paying homage to her and her fellow pilgrims. Greg Hoy reports.
GREG HOY: Paris lies some 16,700 kilometres across the seas from the very Victorian provincial city of Bendigo. Here Australian artist Agnes Goodsir learnt to paint around the turn of last century before departing, aged 36, for 'Gay Paré'. Followed between world wars one and two by 70 or so other Australian artists.
..JOHN BAXTER, AUTHOR: There was a lot of vice. There was a lot of art, there was a lot of culture. There were riotous parties and there were wonderful people, and the further it gets in the past, the more vivid the image becomes.
..GREG HOY: Expatriate Australian author John Baxter now lives near the Latin Quarter in the very building and apartment once shared by Agnes Goodsir and her muse and studio model Cherry, or Rachel Dunn.
JOHN BAXTER: To be a woman painter, in Paris it was perfectly understandable, in Australia often looked down on. But it also meant that we got the cocaine addicts, we got the absinthe drinkers, we got most of the lesbians in the English speaking world, because Paris had become a centre and when news got around that that's what Paris was like. Everybody decided that they wanted to be there, as well. And the illusion sold itself. The fantasy became a reality.
..JOHN BAXTER: Scott Fitzgerald dined there and Earnest Hemingway, Ezra Powell, James Joyce. All these people visited that same building. So it's quite likely that she ran into these people on the stairs.
GREG HOY: Pablo Picasso was there amongst the mil lure, though his work there supported solely by the experimental writer Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice Toklas. For the French, this was a friendly invasion fuelled by the collapse of the Frank after World War I. As Earnest Hemingway boasted you could live well for a year in Paris on just US $1,000.
..GREG HOY: Agnes Goodsir was joined by the likes of Max Meldrum, Rupert Bunny, Besse Gibson, Ethel Carrick Fox. Half were women including the great modernist, Margaret Preston and Besse Davidson. Very different painters both long rumoured to have been one time partners.
..GREG HOY: Agnes Goodsir was similarly awarded various medals and elected a member of the prestigious Society Nationale des Beaux Arts.
..JOHN BAXTER: There is a sense very often when you're walking around Paris that you're constantly bumping into the ghosts of these people. If you go there as a tourist you don't get it. Paris embraces you, it's like a love affair. You become part of a couple. The other part is the city of Paris.