Keepers of the artistic flame

Keepers of the artistic flame

Affairs of the Art

by Katrina Strickland

Miegunyah Press, $34.99 pb, 261 pp, 9780522838624

What happens when a famous artist dies, leaving a wife, husband, or children to tend the flame? The question recurs in Ian Hamilton’s spellbinding Keepers of the Flame (1992), an account of a dozen literary estates over a period of three hundred years, and remains suspended in this journalistic assessment by Katrina Strickland of the management of Australian art estates in our own time.

I felt the strength of a widow’s commitment in 1992 when Maisie Drysdale gave me Hamilton’s book. At the time, I was procrastinating about writing a biography of her first husband, Peter Purves Smith. He had been dead more than forty years; Maisie had remarried in the 1960s and was now an old woman twice bereaved; but she had not forgotten. Through her deliberate gift she intimated that I shared the responsibility of shoring upher dead young husband’s reputation, warned me that she had a widow’s passion, and reassured me that she had taken Hamilton’s point (up to a point).

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month.

We offer a range of subscription options, including print, which can be found by clicking here. If you are already a subscriber, enter your username and password in the ‘Log In’ section in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

If you require assistance, contact us or consult the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Published in May 2013, no. 351
Mary Eagle

Mary Eagle

Mary Eagle is an art historian, with additional experience as an art critic and art curator. She is former Head of Australian Art at the National Gallery of Australia, is a Harold White fellow at the National Library of Australia, and is currently writing about the life and work of the Anglo-American artist Augustus Earle (1793–1838).

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.