‘Catherine Hamlin is such a distinguished woman; whose manners reflect the formalities of a bygone age. Therefore, I felt I must paint her in a classic realist style after being so captivated by the beautiful paintings of the great masters I saw in the Louvre, also of a bygone era.’
In 2013, Sally Ryan’s portrait of Dr Catherine Hamlin AC became one of the forty finalists in the prestigious Archibald Prize. The portrait is a wonderful likeness of Dr Hamlin and captures her strength of character and her grace.
The story behind the painting
Sally Ryan is an Australian contemporary realist and portrait artist who met Dr Catherine Hamlin at a fundraising event in 2012. She plucked up the courage to ask Catherine if she could paint her portrait. Catherine agreed and soon flew from Addis Ababa to Sydney to sit for the portrait.
Catherine sat on a chair draped with a knitted woollen blanket in the colours of the Ethiopian flag. When a woman arrives at a Hamlin hospital, she is given a handmade blanket like this. They have become iconic to Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, representing the love and care given to each patient – her life being woven back together.
Sally created a stunning photo-realist oil painting of Dr Catherine Hamlin. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that Sally deliberately included the creases in Catherine’s shirt – a nod to the fact that Catherine had just taken it from her suitcase after flying from Addis Ababa to Sydney. In her usual humble character, Catherine was worried about sitting for the portrait in her creased shirt – but Sally loved the story and character behind those faint creases.
Prestigious Archibald Prize finalist
The portrait was one of forty finalists in the Archibald prize. This prestigious prize was established by JF Archibald, with the aim of fostering portraiture, supporting artists and preserving the memory of great Australians. Since it was first awarded in 1921, Australia’s most celebrated artists have entered and the subjects have been equally prominent in their respective fields.
The Archibald Prize is held annually at the Art Gallery of NSW, drawing large crowds. The portrait travelled around Australia for one year and won the People’s Choice award in several regional galleries.
Author: Felicity Duong, Intern at Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation