Mackennal, Bertram (1863-1931; Australian)
Madame Melba 1899
Marble, 198.5 x 61.3 x 61.5 cm (including base)
Presented by Nellie Melba, 1900
National Gallery of Victoria (60-2)

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 this work, see also

For Melba, see e.g. (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