Since she started her tenure, Melbourne Girls Grammar’s 12th Principal, Dr Toni Meath, has had a vision of completing the history of the School’s leadership with a full complement of portraits dating back to our beginnings in 1893.
Only six of the School’s 11 past principals – Kathleen Gilman Jones (1916-1938), Dorothy Jean (DJ) Ross (1939-1955), Edith Mountain (1957-1974), Nina Crone (1975-1994), Christine Briggs (1995-2007) and Catherine Misson (2007-2018) – had their portraits hanging on the walls of the Phelia Grimwade drawing room.
Founding principals Emily Hensley (1893-1898) and Alice Taylor (1893-1895), sisters Mary (1898-1907) and Edith Morris (1898-1912), and Agnes Tunnicliffe (1914-1915) were missing from the collection.
Our Academic Scholar in residence, Adjunct Professor Erica McWilliam AM, says their omission can be traced both to tensions in the School at the turn of the century and to the undervaluing of women leaders and of girls’ education more generally at the time.
Dr Meath shared her idea with School Council and its Chair, Mark Burgess. The School Council happily supported the idea and commissioned the five portraits of the earliest headmistresses of the School.
The next task was to find the artists.
The job of bringing the School’s founding principals – Emily Hensley and Alice Taylor – to life was given to South Australian realist artist Tsering Hannaford. A nice connection is the fact Hannaford is the daughter of Robert, who painted the portrait of Edith Mountain.
Archibald Prize winner Yvette Coppersmith was tasked with the portraits of sisters, Mary and Edith Morris. The Melbourne-based artist completed Mary Morris’ portrait early in 2022 with Edith finished in 2020.
Well-established Melbourne artist Dinny Birrell was commissioned to paint the portrait of Agnes Tunnicliffe. Birrell has painted several portraits of the country’s finest educationalists and notable public figures.
The styles of each of the three artists can be seen in their portrayals of the School’s first five principals.
The Phelia Grimwade drawing room walls now proudly display the complete set of 11 portraits of our remarkable courageous, and intelligent past principals.
MGGS has crafted a special book titled ‘Unveiled’ to celebrate the competition of the set of portraits. You can buy a copy here: https://www.trybooking.com/BXWQL