15 August 1920 – 3 November 2015
Peter Kampfner's Eulogy
We are celebrating a truly incredible life.
I’d like to say how deeply privileged I was to have had Judy as a mother.
Many years ago, in an interview with the woman’s weekly, the journalist asked Judy,
‘Judy, when you retire what do you propose doing?’
And my mother said ‘Retire? When I retire, I will be dead’
I want to pass thanks to several people who contributed. Mel, who was also an artist, who crossed the corridor and sat with mum and got her- together with Filippa who painted her for the Archibald- to continue doing lines right up until her last days. Thank you.
Judy Cassab: A Journey
I think a good speech should be short and interesting so I want to make that both.
She was born with exceptional genius; at the age of 12, her mother gave her a set of crayons for her birthday. She had never drawn a thing in her life, no stick man, nothing; it simply wasn’t done in those days. She took the crayon and turned to her grandmother and said 'Can I paint you?'
And they went in the garden and my mother did a sketch of my great-grandmother which was done by the hand of a 50 year master. We have that sketch today and anybody would say no 12 year old could have done this sketch.
She rose to world fame; there are 3 portraits in the Royal Portrait Academy in London, 5 in the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, 6 of the 11 portraits of Vice-Chancellors in the great hall at Sydney University are Cassab’s.
The Duke and Duchess of Kent hang in the lobby of Wimbledon Clubhouse, the Maharaja and Maharani of Jaipur hang in the palace at Jjaipur, Queen Sirikit in the palace of Bangkok, and Dame Joan Sutherland and Sir Robert Helpmann hang in the lobby of Sydney Opera House.
I just want to go through some light moments in her life that I remember with pleasure. When we arrived in Australia in 1951 we were penniless and lived in a boarding house where there were some 20 to 25 people in a terrace in Bondi.
Mum had a letter of reference from Adrian Secker in England to a man we’d never heard of called Charles Lloyd Jones and she rang this number and was invited to paint the family, and one of these early moments was when a giant rolls Royce came to the terrace in Bondi to pick up my little mother and all of the residents were hanging out the window looking at Judy climbing in this huge rolls Royce.
Another moment; when she painted queen sirikit in the palace in Bangkok, the government had commissioned her to paint the painting. The queen had set up a radio to listen to music and my mother always spoke to all her sitters so that she could capture their character and put that character in the portraits; so it wasn’t just capturing the moment, it was capturing an entire person. And she said to queen sirikit ‘your highness, the radio has to go’.
And I think it was the only time that Queen Sirikit would have been declined a wish but she called in the servants who came on their knees, took the radio and on their knees exited, and there was no radio.
One of the people that my mother painted several portraits of was Lord Kenilworth who came to Australia often. He was a strikingly handsome man, very eccentric, wonderful, wonderful fellow and one of the visits my father commented what a beautiful silk shirt he was wearing.
My father was short and chubby and Lord Kenilworth was very tall and slim and he took off the silk shirt and said ‘Jansci it’s yours’ and my father said ‘I can’t wear it’ and Lord Kenilworth went home shirtless. So that was a moment but, my mother sketched him for her pleasure and at the end of doing the sketch she tore it out and gave it to Lord Kenilworth-John-, and the next day a parcel arrived and in it was a statue of a 13th century Kamir head and a note saying ‘One great head deserves another’.
When Mum painted the Maharaja and Maharani of Jaipur the Maharaja asked Judy ‘Whats your favourite dish?’ and my mother said ‘paprika chicken’ and the maharaja said ‘Wonderful, would you cook it for us?’
She had never cooked for more than four people in her life; Jansci, my brother and I; so she was a great painter but not terribly into being a mass cook and said ‘How many people?’ ‘28’. ‘When would you like this?’
‘Tomorrow morning for breakfast’
So my mother had a sleepless night and in the morning the Major Domo came and she had a eunuch protecting her door and the three of them marched down long coridoors to a kitchen, and my mother had multiplied all the ingredients by 7 and she was terrified. But when she arrived at the kitchen there were 20 staff there ready to help prepare the meal so she just assigned everybody things to do, taught them how to make gnoccci and a magnificent breakfast was served.
There were Princesses and Maharani’s all dressed in wonderful silk saris and they all ate with their hands and my mother remembered that at the end of the evening they just wiped their hands on these wonderful silk saris.
There was another quite magic moment where she painted Lord Thorneycroft; he adored her. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer of England , second most powerful man In England. He came out to Australia for a state visit and we were, at the time, having a holiday in Blackheath the two young children and my parents. Lord Thorneycroft managed to find out where we were got a phone number and rang and said 'Judy, I thought we could catch up for tea’.
And my mother said ‘Look im sorry we are in Blackheath on holidays’ and in those days the roads were horror roads, just two lanes and it took about three to three and a half hours to get to Blackheath and three and a half hours to get back.
Lord Thorneycroft said ‘No problem, I have a government car, I will come up for tea’ and he broke his entire Australian schedule to come up and spend that time for a cup of tea with judy. He ended up becoming a hobby painter for the rest of his life and that was Lord Thorneycroft.
I believe Judy did more for the advancement of women in Australian art than any other woman in history. When she began women weren’t considered artists at all and she broke through all that early ground to win those Archibalds and many other prizes and changed the acceptance of women in Australian art.
My mother had a beautiful smile and I have to say that towards the end as her health deteriorated I would go into the home and I began every sentence with ‘How is my favourite mother?’ she had dementia but that always broke the link open, and she would burst into that smile and a twinkle in her eye, and I will take that smile with me for the rest of my living days.
In the last day of her life I went into Montefiore and I held her hand and I just said 'I love you', and I got that smile.
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