Joy HESTER<br/>
<em>Pauline McCarthy</em> (1945) <!-- (recto) --><br />

oil on cardboard<br />
45.7 x 26.0 cm<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
June Sherwood Bequest, 2021<br />
2021.275<br />
© Joy Hester Estate/Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

Joy Hester Pauline McCarthy


Joy Hester, a key member of the Heide circle of artists and the only woman in the Angry Penguins group, is best known for highly expressive figurative drawings, typically executed in ink on paper. The NGV recently acquired a rare painting in oils by the artist a portrait of Hester’s close friend, Pauline McCarthy.   

Hester was born in Melbourne in 1920. Her formal training included art studies at Brighton Technical School and in 1938 at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, where she won first prize for a head study from life. In the same year, she and Sidney Nolan were founding members of the Contemporary Arts Society where Hester became a regular exhibitor. It wasn’t until more than a decade later, however, that she held her first solo exhibition at the Melbourne Book Club Gallery. Hester’s preferred technique was brush and ink and she developed a distinctive style of portraiture typically charged with emotion and intensity.  

In January 1941 at the age of twenty, Hester married Albert Tucker who at the time was working as a commercial artist. Hester and Tucker had a son, Sweeney, and were together for six years. In 1947, she began a passionate relationship with artist Gray Smith leaving Tucker and relinquishing care of young Sweeney to Heide’s Sunday and John Reed. In a dramatic twist, Hester was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in the same year and given just nine months to live. In fact, she survived another thirteen years and her time with Smith, a period of nurture and care, ended up being her most artistically prolific. 

Pauline McCarthy, the sitter in this portrait by Hester, operated a bookshop and private lending library, Kismet, with her husband Jack. Located in Johnston Street, Fitzroy, it was a popular meeting place for writers and artists. Regular visitors included Tucker, Nolan, Max Harris, Danila Vassilieff, Neil Douglas, Rosemary Good and Arthur Boyd. It was here, while Tucker was travelling in Japan, that Hester and Smith met and fell in love. They would spend romantic weekends together at Kismet, staying in an upstairs room.  

McCarthy became a confidant and sisterly friend to Hester during her separation from Tucker and burgeoning relationship with Smith. Permissiveness was not uncommon within Melbourne’s bohemian circles during the postwar period and McCarthy had herself been involved in an extra-marital affair with Nolan a few years earlier. McCarthy provided Hester with empathetic emotional and physical support.  

Hester rarely painted in oils and Pauline McCarthy is one of only eight known works by her in this medium. With its dark tones and psychological intensity, it is typical of her unique figurative style. The painting was originally a gift to McCarthy from Hester and one of several portraits she did of her – another Pauline and Loy, 1947, is in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. 

David Hurlston, Senior Curator, Australian Painting, Sculpture and Decorative Arts to 1980, National Gallery of Victoria