miniaturist, portrait painter, sketcher, architect and diarist, was born in London on 15 March 1804, natural daughter of George, fifth Duke of Gordon, and Jane Graham of Rockmoor, Scotland. Acknowledged as the duke’s daughter, she was at first privately educated then attended a convent in London. Georgiana was first taught to draw when she was living at Somers Town, aged seven, and met Louis Mauleon, a French prisoner of war on parole, who visited her daily for two years until repatriated on 13 August 1813. He also gave her French lessons. Later she was taught by the landscape painter John Varley (1815), supplemented by a dozen sessions with John Glover (also a landscape painter) and a few from Dominic Serres, marine painter to the King, who taught her to draw in Indian ink and indigo. Then she learnt from the portrait and miniature painter Charles Hayter, which was more to her taste as she recollected that she always wanted to be a portrait painter. However the lessons ended abruptly when Hayter offered to marry her to one of his sons (whom she had never met).

As 'Miss Georgiana Huntley’ [sic], she exhibited annually at the Royal Academy from 1816 (when aged 12!) to 1819 and in 1821 and 1825, her subject matter varying from landscape to genre and portraiture. {Under 'Miss Georgiana Huntley, Painter’, Graves lists: (from 14 Clarendon Square) 1816 View of a church; (from 7 Clarendon Square) 1817 View on the Thames near Richmond, and View of Lambeth from Millbank; (from 25 Buckingham Place) 1818 'A peasant boy returning from market with vegetables, on a winter’s day; 1819 Scene before a cottage door near Margate; (from 16 Newman Street) 1821 Portrait of a French lady; and (from 10 New Road, Fitzroy Square) 1825 A Portrait.} In 1820 she was awarded the Silver Medal of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (later the Royal Society of Arts) for a miniature portrait of her grandfather, Alexander, 4th Duke of Gordon (her watercolour on paper copy is at Arthur’s Seat, Victoria). In 1821 she won the Society’s silver palette for 'an original group of portraits in watercolour’ (both medal and palette are in LT).

In the 1820s Georgiana went to live at her grandfather’s Scottish estate in Morayshire and became 'Georgiana Gordon of Gordon Castle’. She spent much time painting, including copying many of the portraits in the castle. After Duke Alexander died in 1827, she continued to live there (far less happily) with her father and his wife, Elizabeth, née Brodie of Brodie Castle, until 1829 when she moved to a boarding house in Edinburgh to paint. A list in her handwriting titled 'Portraits Painted for Fame (and Money)’ gives details of works painted between 1827 and 1830. 16 were painted at Gordon Castle, 35 at Edinburgh (nearly all of women and children) and one at Cullen House. Not all were miniatures. Some were half- or full-length portraits such as The Marchioness Cornwallis; a Full-Length; Sitting at her Drawing . Frequently not only the name of the sitter is given but also much information on their social position or connections, e.g. 'Lieut. James Skene in uniform, for Mrs Skene. He afterwards married a Greek lady, and had, in her right, “the liberty to pasture his bees on the sunny side of Hymettus”.’

On 25 September 1830, Georgiana wrote: 'Left my easel, and changed my name. £225 in Sir William Forbes’s bank; the result of my portraits’ That day she married Andrew Murison McCrae, a solicitor and kinsman to the Gordons, at Gordon Castle. They lived in London with a house in Edinburgh until the Duke died leaving everything to his wife. Their financial position then became precarious and, enthused by Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell , they decided to emigrate to NSW. Andrew arrived at Sydney in March 1839 and later moved to Melbourne where members of his family were living; Georgiana ill and weak after the birth of her fifth child (four still living) was forbidden to travel so remained in London, coping with her own various childhood illnesses and soon forced to earn a living teaching and painting miniatures after receiving no support from her husband. It was two years before she and the children joined him in Melbourne. In 1842 they moved into a house, Mayfield, on the Yarra River designed by Georgiana, which was described as 'one of the first superior houses erected in the colony’.

The following year, however, Andrew took up a run near Dromana; he moved the family there in 1845. On the eve of her departure from Melbourne Georgiana wrote in her journal:

If I had a free choice in this matter, I should remain at “Mayfield” until the house is sold or let. There is a living to be had here through my art of miniature painting, for which I have already several orders in hand, but dare not oppose the family wishes that “money not be made in that way”! At Arthur’s Seat we have only huts, and no house built for the reception of ourselves and furniture.

Despite such difficulties Georgiana drew and painted a large number of works, mostly portraits of her family and views of the surrounding districts. Some are in the McCrae homestead, Arthur’s Seat, on the Mornington Peninsula, now owned by the National Trust (Vic.). She played a major role in the design of the Arthur’s Seat homestead, noting in her diary her exasperation when the builder omitted the hearths. The major collection of her work (LT) consists of 50 sketches and drawings, some pre-dating her emigration. The most common subject is the McCrae homestead and its environs, including The Kitchen, Arthur’s Seat (1845, pen and wash), but there are also sketches of early Melbourne such as Flagstaff and Cemetery: Queen St. Corner and Savings Bank, Collins Street (1853, pen and wash).

Her portrait of Bishop W.G. Broughton (c.1843) provoked Jane Franklin , wife of the Governor of Tasmania, to write to the bishop in January 1844:

We have seen your portrait by Mrs McCrae. May I venture to tell you what I think of it? It is too young, too smooth, too pink and white and consequently too handsome – but notwithstanding it is vastly inferior to the original, not half so interesting looking, so intellectual or so benignant. I shall like it better in the engraving, tho’ even there it will fail in the full expression of the qualities I have enumerated. It is certainly a very pretty picture however – and does credit to the artist.

Georgiana and her children returned to live in Melbourne in 1851 when Andrew took up an appointment as police magistrate at Alberton, Gippsland. She seems to have exhibited rarely, although at the first exhibition of the Victorian Society of Fine Arts at Melbourne in 1857 she showed several works. Some were copies of paintings by Murillo, Reynolds and Van Dyck possibly painted many years earlier; others were sketches or miniatures from life. All appear to have been on a small scale in pencil or watercolour, with many of watercolours on ivory. The Illustrated Journal of Australasia in January 1858 stated, 'Mrs McCrae has some of the most beautiful and delicate miniatures we ever saw’, and the Age of 11 December 1857 was equally complimentary: 'Mrs A.M. McCrae has a number of miniatures executed in a style superior to anything of the sort we have seen in the colony; as also a series of clever studies’. The Argus reviewer wrote:

We hope to see more of this lady’s productions in a future exhibition. Some of the miniatures are exquisite and might vie in grace, delicacy of touch, sentiment and high finish with those of Ross or Thorburn. The small copy of Murillo’s “Laughing Beggar Boy” is a gem in its way, and will bear the most critical examination. The studies from Reynolds are equally beautiful and combine correct drawing, purity of colour and beauty of expression. We have seen no miniatures in the colony comparable with those which have been contributed to this exhibition by Mrs M’Crae: while the pencil and watercolour drawings which accompany them are full of talent.

Most of McCrae’s known colonial works are portraits of family members or friends. Because of her breeding, education, charm and wit she mixed in Melbourne’s highest social and literary circles. Frequent visitors to her house were Governor La Trobe and his wife, Sophie (with whom she mostly conversed in French), Sir John and Lady Franklin, Bishop Broughton, Richard 'Orion’ Horne , Nicholas Chevalier and the poets Henry Kendall and Adam Lindsay Gordon. She was fully accepted into upper-class colonial society, despite the opinion of some of her husband’s family that he had married beneath him and their subsequent refusal to accept her.

Georgiana McCrae was the first woman artist in Port Phillip to write about her life in the colonies as an 'exile’. Even so, her journal suggests that her life was an active and purposeful one, centring on her home and family of seven children, although ultimately she became disillusioned with the new settlement and longed for Scotland. Unfortunately, although she continued to exercise her artistic skills in portraiture, she did so despite 'Mr McCrae’s opposition to my wish to employ my professional talent to profit’. Apart from the apparently demotivating effect of this opposition, it was also regrettable in the light of the family’s frequent financial distress.

At her death in 1890 Alexander Sutherland wrote: 'It was largely due to the influence of such women as Mrs McCrae that ideas of refinement and principles of taste were kept alive during the “dark ages” of our colonial history’.

Alford, Katrina
Bruce, Candice
Kerr, Joan
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