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Self portrait

Bess Norriss1909

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

Bess Norriss Tait (1879–1939), artist, was born in Melbourne and had her first art lessons, aged ten, from the landscape painter, Jane Sutherland. Between 1897 and 1901, she studied under Frederick McCubbin and Bernard Hall at the National Gallery School and began exhibiting watercolours and miniatures with the Victorian Art Society. At the instigation of one of her first patrons, she sent examples of her miniatures to a London expert, George Williamson, who recognised the quality of Norriss’s work and encouraged her to go to England. For six years she ‘scraped and saved’ enough money for the fare, eventually leaving Melbourne in 1905. In London, Williamson introduced her to influential critics and potential patrons who admired her originality, her portraits being ‘painted with spirit’ and in a style which dispensed with what she later described as ‘the superficial, pretty, chocolate-box’ fashion in miniature painting. She studied at the Slade School, became a member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters and in 1908 achieved the first of her many inclusions in exhibitions such as those of the Royal Academy and the New Salon, Paris. By 1910, the Sydney Morning Herald was declaring her to be ‘universally accepted as a miniature painter of exceptional talent’. She married Australian theatre entrepreneur James Nevin Tait in London in 1908 and through him developed associations with the community of creative Australian expats that included Percy Grainger, Nellie Melba and Ada Crossley. Norriss Tait returned to Australia briefly in 1910, completing a number of portrait commissions here and holding exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne from which works were acquired by the National Galleries of Victoria and New South Wales. She returned to London in 1911 and settled in Chelsea, where she died in January 1939.

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