May and Herbert Gibbs Collection

May saw humour everywhere


Funny Little Top Knot, pen practise on Mother May Gibbs, 1902

May's quirky sketch of her mother reading was one of many comical observations of her family. She would often see her mother in a comfortable chair with a book, and the portrait-like seriousness of this work is offset by May's attention to her mother's hairstyle. Protruding above the chair, the topknot is an odd juxtaposition with Cecie's solemn concentration so that May reveals her offbeat sense of humour without masking the tenderness she felt towards her mother.

Yet Cecie and May did not have an easy relationship, with May's admiration jostling with her need for independence. Cecie's overprotective attitude toward her daughter was balanced by her encouragement of artistic expression and-perhaps through the humour and affection of images like this, May was able to negotiate the tensions that existed between mother and daughter.