Florence Rodway was born in Hobart, on November 11 1881. Her father had hoped she would become a doctor, but after showing an early aptitude for drawing, she studied at the Hobart Technical School.
At 21 she became only the second pupil in Australia to be awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy in London. It provided five years free tuition.
Initially Florence worked in oils and in charcoal. The drawing below was published in The Sydney Mail in September 1907.
After completing the first three years of her scholarship, Florence returned to Australia. Her tuition may have been free, but she was unable to afford the high cost of living in London. The return also marked a change in her preferred medium. She turned to pastels, as she explained in an interview;
‘I did not take up pastel work till after I came back to Australia‘, said Miss Rodway ‘In London I had given all my time to charcoal drawing and oil-painting. One day I got some pastels and started experimenting, and I was struck by the brilliancy of the colour effects which could be obtained. I also liked the power which you have over a drawing of a subject with pastels. You can make every mark effective, and keep a sympathetic hold on the modelling of your subject……If I’m drawing a hand I like to feel as if I were making one so that if I touched it I could feel the bones underneath, and if I’m drawing a cheek I think the chalk is running over smooth skin rather than rough paper.’ (Sydney Sun November 30 1913)
The ‘sandpaper’ roughness of the paper the artist used was important, as it caught the colour. However, it could only hold a certain amount, so technical expertise was required to achieve the perfect effect.
Florence moved to Sydney after her London sojourn, and established a studio there.
In 1910, early supporter J.F. Archibald purchased two works by the artist. Another sale that year marked a defining point in her career;
‘I always wanted to establish a portrait connection….and after the Sydney Art Gallery purchased two of my portrait studies  I seemed to go ahead better.‘
1910 was significant for Florence in another way. She had her own portrait painted by friend and fellow artist Norman Carter. It was an arresting, full length image and met with great success. It won a bronze medal in the Paris Salon in 1913 and was exhibited at London’s Royal Academy the following year. Strangely enough it then disappeared from view, until in 1962 Carter donated the painting to the Library of NSW. Unfortunately…… and inexplicably, the two metre high canvas had been cut down to a three-quarter view of Florence. The mystery of this desecration has never been solved.
An important exhibition for Florence was held in 1914;
WOMEN AND THEIR WORK – Miss Florence Rodway, the young Tasmanian artist who has won recognition for clever portraiture, will arrive in Melbourne early next month to make arrangements for her exhibition at the Atheneum Hall on August 19. Portraits in pastel will be a feature of the picture show. The collection will include studies of George Rignold, Henry Lawson, and Madame de Cisnerns. The artist is hoping that she may induce Madame Melba to lend her Rodway portrait to Grace the exhibition. (The Herald, August 4 1914)
The Lawson portrait mentioned above is held by the Library of New South Wales. Sadly, as a pastel it is considered too fragile to be on public display. And here we have one of the reasons why Florence Rodway has faded into obscurity. The medium she chose to work in means that the pastels now rarely appear in exhibitions. By the way, completing this work had its challenges, as Henry often failed to appear for sittings. 😎
I’m not sure whether Madame Melba did lend her Rodway portrait, but she chose it as the cover for a book published to raise money at the outbreak of WWI.
Melba certainly lent another picture for the exhibition, from her personal collection. The subject is unidentified, but it’s titled , Portrait in Blue. It demonstrates the artist’s mastery of colour.
Here is another interesting pastel drawing, but in this case the figures are unidentified. It is titled The Interview, and is thought to represent a woman (on the left with her child) being interviewed for a domestic position.
The Art Gallery of NSW holds 11 works by Florence Rodway, including her oil painting of the most influential person in Australian portraiture, J.B Archibald, her early patron. It was commissioned by the trustees of the Gallery in 1919.
Two of the three portraits submitted by Florence Rodwell in that first year of the competition reached the final five .
After a long, productive life Florence died in Tasmania on January 23 1971. She had returned to Hobart with her husband Walter Moore and their daughter in the 1930s.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON RODWAY, CLICK HERE.