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Nerli, Girolamo Pieri Ballati (Italian, b.1860, d.1926), Artist
Portrait of a girl
1890
oil on canvas on board
555 x 450 mm frame size; 457 x 350 mm board size
2-1972
Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Purchased 1972 with funds from the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society.
Girolamo Nerli was an aristocrat who had studied art at the Academy of Fine Art in Florence, and absorbed much of the approach of the Macchiaioli, or ‘patch painters’, the Italian precursors of the Impressionists. In 1885 he went to Australia, where he helped to foster what is now called Australian Impressionism. Nerli first visited Dunedin in 1889–1890 when he was attending the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition. After returning in 1893 he stayed for several years and was instrumental in introducing Dunedin artists to the new tendencies in art that were then coming out of the old world.
This portrait, probably painted in 1894, is possibly of Olive Wilkie, the auburn-haired fourteen-year-old daughter of the owner of Dunedin printing firm, J Wilkie & Co. Nerli used the sitter on several occasions as a model. In Portrait of a Girl there is a slight distancing from the subject as the viewer dwells on her profile, her cheek, ear and her delicately treated auburn hair, which dissolves into a kind of russet cloud on the left. But it is the adolescent ambivalence Nerli has evoked, the sitter’s ambiguity between child and woman, which distinguishes the image.

not on view

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