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Painting of Girl in Traditional Barta Dress that belonged to Arthur Calwell #2010-0269

Timber painting in timber frame; image is of a woman in Latvian National Dress.

History

This painting is part of a collection of objects that belonged to Arthur Calwell, Australia’s first Minister for Immigration (1945-49) that were donated to the museum by his daughter, Dr Mary Elizabeth Calwell.

This painting attests to the high regard held for Calwell by the refugees to Australia, is a rare item of material culture stemming from the early years of immigration to Australia from the Baltic states after World War II. The costume is from the Barta district in south-western Latvia. At the time Latvia was occupied by the USSR. Latvian refugees were foundational to today’s Latvian Australian community. The reclaimed timber support of the painting attests to the poverty of that immigrant community and the ingenuity of migrants in producing small items of memorabilia from usually recycled materials.

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Statement of values

This painting is significant as part of the Arthur Calwell collection, which is comprised of a selection of objects that belonged to Australia’s first Minister for Immigration (1945-49), Arthur Calwell. The collection is significant as a whole because it tells a story about a leading Commonwealth parliamentarian of the middle decades of the twentieth century and includes highly personal material which tells of Calwell’s family life, his life-long involvement in Labor politics, and his personal religious convictions. The Arthur Calwell collection at the museum uniquely links the personal with the political, thus affording an opportunity to conduct research which tells a rounded story of this important parliamentarian.

This painting is significant as it documents the high regard held for Calwell, the first Minister for Immigration, by members of the Ukrainian immigrant community. The depiction of traditional costume is significant in indicating the persistence of Latvian cultural nationalism in the face of Soviet occupation and links Calwell with Cold War themes of nationalism and the significance of traditional cultural motifs such as costume in maintaining national feeling among emigrant Baltic communities in Australia.

Reference:

Calwell, Arthur, Be just and fear not, Victoria: Hawthorn, 1972.

Kiernan, Colm, Calwell: a personal and political biography, Melbourne: Thomas Nelson, 1978.

  • Painting of Girl in Traditional Barta Dress that belonged to Arthur CalwellPainting of Girl in Traditional Barta Dress that belonged to Arthur Calwell —

Details

Width 180mm
Height 230mm
Depth 18mm
Medium Timber; metal; paint
Creator’s name Unknown
Date created Circa 1948