May and Herbert Gibbs Collection

Portrait of May Gibbs

May Gibbs reading Dickens' Bleak House 1889

For Herbert and May, admiration was mutual. Close to the time this work was painted, impressionism with its open brushwork and loose colours had caused a stir in the art circles of Australia. Herbert had studied at the Slade School of Art and would have been aware of shifts in artistic technique that were leading artists away from picturesque renditions during the nineteenth century. Although he wasn't inclined to the abstraction and aestheticism usually associated with modernist art, Herbert's fluid brush work and the rich tones of this image, along with his conscious choice of an 'everyday' subject, reveal this awareness of wider art historical developments. Capturing May side on, Herbert evokes her quiet focus, a trait he no doubt admired, without intrusion. Contemplative and still, the work provides us with a glimpse of the deep connection that defined the relationship between father and daughter.