The famous soprano (1861-1931), who chose her stage name in tribute to her native Melbourne, commissioned this work from Mackennal – also a locally-born international celebrity, and almost her exact contemporary – specifically for presentation to the NGV.
Shortly after donating this bust, Melba supposedly made the notorious comment to Dame Clara Butt (visiting from England for a concert tour in 1901), “Sing ’em muck – it’s all they can understand!” But Melba later repudiated this allegation, insisting in her 1925 memoirs that “if you wish to understand me at all… you must understand that I am an Australian.”
AR 1900, p.30; NGV 1905, p.80 (II.Stawell Gallery, no.175; ill.)
For Melba, see e.g. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/melba-dame-nellie-7551 (by Jim Davidson; ABD vol.10, 1986); the 1901 and 1925 quotes appear in the Melba entry in Una McGovern (ed.), Chambers Biographical Dictionary, rev edn., Edinburgh: Chambers, 2002, p.1036