Pavlova: a hidden treasure

Sometimes there’s a treasure right under our noses. We’ve just never noticed it before.

That’s the case with this Mitchell Library photograph of Anna Pavlova taken during her first tour to Australia when the conductor was the bearded Lucien Wurmser.

He’s seen here between the ballerina and the tall man identified by Robert Woodley at the Mitchell Library as James Stuart MacDonald, the artist, art critic, and director of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. Click on the photograph for a close look.

But there’s a mystery here. We can date the year of the photo as 1926, when Wurmser was conductor and music director of the Pavlova tour that year. She returned to Australia in 1929, but Wurmser did not. And as the photographer was Sam Hood, the photo was almost certainly taken in Sydney where Hood worked.

Yet in 1926, MacDonald lived in Melbourne where he was art critic for the the Melbourne Herald. In 1928, he was appointed director of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales and moved to Sydney.

So, in 1926, was MacDonald visiting Sydney? Or was Hood visiting Melbourne where the Pavlova troupe opened the Australian tour in March that year?

More fascinating detail in this photograph: the low level of the paintings, the spats worn by all the men except MacDonald, the lettering, partially obscured by the net curtain, on the door – one line appears to begin with MAC backwards but the letters appear to be followed by a D, which is not reversed – the dainty feet and tiny ankles of Pavlova who is draped in a roomy velvet jacket over a tightly wrapped cravat.

If anyone can identify the location and the couple on the left, I’d be grateful.