photographer and painter, was Brisbane’s leading society photographer between 1935 and 1960. She was born in Croydon, in the Gulf Country of North Queensland, on 9 January 1899, to Owen Duffy, a red-haired American gold-miner then aged sixty-one, and his wife Henrietta, who had formerly run a hotel in Croydon. Her father owned a crushing mill outside Croydon; the family, which included a younger brother and sister, lived in a corrugated iron cottage on site until 1908 when her parents separated. Her mother managed various hotels in Queensland until purchasing a guest house at South Brisbane in 1912. Dorothy completed her education in Brisbane, studied painting with Oscar Fristrom, then got a job at the age of fifteen in Thomas Mathewson & Son’s photographic studio, North Quay, where she became an expert retoucher.

In 1920 she married John Coleman. Dorothy’s talents were in such demand that she mainly did freelance retouching from her home until her daughter (b.1921) went to boarding school in 1927. Then, after working for two Brisbane studios, 'D.C.’ (as she was known to her staff) opened her own studio in Ascot Chambers, on the corner of Queen and Edward Streets, in 1935. Portraiture in all its forms, including miniature painting, made the Dorothy Coleman Studios famous. She had a staff of about ten, largely women, including retouchers, colourists, darkroom assistants, finishers and receptionists. Clients were charmed when they visited the studio, which was always filled with bowls of roses.

When World War II was declared in 1939, business boomed. With General MacArthur’s headquarters across the street, portrait commissions for soldiers on leave and war weddings flooded in. Dorothy’s energy and artistic flair was surely the reason for her success at a time when all her contemporaries were men. She could remove a moustache from a soldier’s portrait intended for his mother, or enhance an image from a war widow’s faded snapshot. The Manpower Office praised the work done by the studio.

Publicity photographs for balls, beauty quests, and all shots of Twelfth Night Theatre productions were taken by D.C. herself. She also covered the smartest weddings, christenings and other social events: 'to be photographed by Dorothy Coleman was itself an accolade’, stated the Sunday Mail (23 April 1978).

Dorothy closed her studio in 1960. Colour film had arrived and her husband died that year. Having studied painting with Josephine Muntz Adams , Caroline Barker and Martyn Roberts, she now had time to pursue her love of painting, working from a small studio in her exquisite garden at Everton Park (where she reared many a stray dog and cat). She became a member of the Royal Queensland Art Society. Her first solo painting show was held at the Galloway Galleries, Bowen Hills, in 1978, when she was seventy-nine. It consisted of flower studies and landscapes, popular for their almost photographic detail. Her exhibition the following year sold out before the opening.

Dorothy Coleman died on 1 January 1984, survived by her daughter, Denise Thorpe. Rhoda Felgate compiled a history of Twelfth Night Theatre, complemented by a wealth of photographic evidence by Dorothy, and donated it to the Fryer Library (University of Queensland) before her death in 1990.

Writers:
Robins, DeborahNote: Heritage biography.
Date written:
1995
Last updated:
2011