Collection Online
198.5 × 61.3 × 61.5 cm
Place/s of Execution
London, England
Accession Number
Australian Sculpture
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Madame Melba, 1900
Gallery location
Gallery 6
Level 2, NGV Australia
About the work

In Paris in 1886, Helen Porter Armstrong née Mitchell chose the stage name 'Madame Melba', after the city of her birth, for her international debut as an opera singer. Melba was proud of her origins and achievements and took many opportunities to repay the debt she felt she owed her country and home town.

In 1898 she commissioned a bust of herself from her friend, sculptor Bertram Mackennal, for presentation to the National Gallery of Victoria. Melba and Mackennal were both Melbourne-born and almost exact contemporaries.

Although the sculptural bust was a conventional form for portraits in the late nineteenth century, Mackennal imbued his portrait of Melba with extraordinary life and presence. The diva's handsome shoulders rise out of a busy swirl of draperies. The head, with its spiralling coil of hair, is set slightly to the side, imperiously surveying a presumed audience.