The recent donation of Arthur Loureiro’s Portrait of Marie Therese Smith, 1888–89, makes an important addition to the NGV’s holdings of this significant late-nineteenth-century artist’s work. In this portrait the youngest daughter of Argus art critic James Smith, Marie Therese, who was affectionately known as Tessa by her family, sits with paintbrushes and a small portable palette in Loureiro’s fashionable studio in Melbourne. Tessa is surrounded by Classical plaster busts, a plaque and an array of unframed canvases, of which one is a portrait of Loureiro that has recently been identified by art historian Sandra Archibald as being by his friend José Júlio de Sousa-Pinto and painted in Brolles, France, in 1883. The other small canvases may be plein-air studies for which Loureiro was best known, following his arrival in Melbourne in 1884. Also notable is the Japanese cabinet behind Tessa that shows the legendary tale of Yoshitsune and Benke’s battle on the Gojo Bridge in Kyoto, and reflects the influence of japonisme on artists of the English Aestheticism Movement.
Eclectic studio interiors such as this were popular among artists towards the end of the 1880s, the most famous studio being that of Tom Roberts in Grosvenor Chambers in Collins Street, which opened in 1888. This portrait of Tessa Smith makes an interesting companion to Arthur Montague’s less intimate but equally stylish interior, Senhor Loureiro’s studio (west end), 1892, which the NGV acquired in 2002.
Born on 11 February 1853 in Oporto, Portugal, Loureiro studied at fine arts academies in both Oporto and Lisbon. Upon winning the Portuguese government’s art scholarship in 1879, he travelled to Paris and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and exhibited at the Salon from 1880 to 1882. This period in France ensured his contact with the most contemporary paintings methods, primarily that of painting en-plein-air. Smith noted in the Argus of 21 October 1884 that Loureiro belonged to what he called ‘the naturalistic school of art’, listing French painters such as Jules Bastion-Lepage, Édouard Manet, and Jean-François Millet as its main proponents.
Loureiro married Marie Therese Huybers in Surrey, England, in September 1881. When he became ill and unable to work outdoors in Europe, they travelled south with their son in 1884 in search of a warmer climate. After a brief stay in Hobart, the Loureiros settled in September of that year in Melbourne; a wealthy town experiencing a real estate boom, which held obvious appeal for an artist seeking patronage.
Tessa’s father, James Smith, is best known for his damning and conservative critique of the famous 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition in 1889. However, to remember Smith for this alone is to ignore a long career as a critic who promoted many artists, including Louis Buvelot, Nicholas Chevalier, Eugène von Guérard, Loureiro and even Tom Roberts. Certainly, having arrived in Australia in December 1854, Smith played a major role in shaping the taste and cultural development of Melbourne during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Undoubtedly Loureiro’s portrait of his daughter Tessa tells of the close relationship Smith fostered with Loureiro and, more broadly, the artists of Melbourne, and reflects his close engagement with the contemporary painting trends of the 1880s.
Humphrey Clegg, Acting Curator, Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2011).