Monday, February 14, 2011

Ada Whiting (1859-1953) - a modern-day Anne Mee

Ada Whiting, who was born in Australia, had a life that bore
extraordinary parallels to the famous Georgian miniature painter, Anne
Mee.  Ada's father,  George Cherry, who was born in England and
emigrated to Tasmania,  was an artist, but he earned his living as a
photographer.  His talent was recognised when he was appointed as one
of the small battery of official photographers following the
Australasian tour of the then Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred, in

A pencil drawing by Ada of her father drawn in 1885 when she was 26

By the time she was 18, Ada and her four younger siblings were
orphaned, when both their parents died young.  Ada moved her family to
Melbourne, where she found work in a photographers' studio, colouring
photographs.  Largely self taught, she managed to support herself and
her family with this work.  Later she met and married her husband,
Saville Whiting, a photographer.  The marriage was not a success,
despite two children, and Ada left him.  By this time, Saville's
occupation was described as 'Speculator'!

A self-portrait sketch

She painted her first miniature when she was 40 and two years later
exhibited two portraits at the Royal Academy, London. However, she was
not much interested in exhibiting, preferring to get on with earning a
living.   Soon she became noticed and in 1905 the National Art Gallery
of New South Wales bought one of her miniatures for ten guineas.

 Portrait of an unknown lady painted in 1907
(In the collection)

 By this time, she was painting for clients around the world, including
many celebrities such as the most famous diva of her day, Dame Nellie
Melba.  She and Melba became friends and Ada painted many portraits of
her.  Urging her to come to London with her, where she promised to
introduce Ada to London society, the artist never actually left
Australia, much to her friend's dismay.  Modest and stoical, Ada
carried on with her painting, taking what work came her way. Some of
her compatriots were scathing about her Tasmanian roots, dubbing her
'The Convict Artist', a nasty reference to Tasmania's past history as
a penal colony.  In 1935, an Australian newspaper ran one of many
articles about her, praising her superb skills and stating that
miniatures were as popular as ever.  She was a quick worker,
completing a miniature in two or three days, and always from sittings,
unless asked to paint a posthumous portrait.
In her later years, she lived with her son, Saville Junior, who was a
clever engineer.

Ada painting a miniature at the age of 80 with the aid of a magnifying glass

This miniature was painted in 1941 when Ada was 82.
(in the collection)

When miniatures became too difficult to paint because of her eyesight,
she painted flowers.  She was still painting at 91.  Many miniatures
by Ada are scattered around the world, all of them signed on the front
with her conjoined initials 'AW' and sometimes signed in full on the
reverse, also.    We have noticed that her work is sometimes
attributed to a contemporary, Alyn Williams, as they share the same
initials.  However, Williams always signed his name in full on the
front, which makes his work unmistakable.

We are grateful to Ada Whiting's relatives, who kindly gave us further
details about her life and supplied the photographs.


  1. ENJOYED this history on Ada...thank-you :-)

  2. Ada Whiting’s mother-in-law is Margaret Speer; the daughter of Captain Saville Speer and Martha Caldwell.

    Captain Saville Speer of the 1st Royal Scots, Regiment of Foot. Commanded by Colonel H.R.H. "His Royal Highness" Duke of Kent.

    I have the genealogy of this family.

    George Speer of San Francisco, USA

  3. Dear George, Thank you for this information, which we didn't know. We now see that Ada's husband, Saville Whiting, was named after his Grandfather on his mother's side. If you have any further information relating to Ada we would be very interested

  4. Ada Whiting entered 2 miniture paintings of Jessica Harcourt and Rene Harcourt in the Archibald prize in 1925
    I would be interested if anyone knew of their where abouts

  5. Jessica Harcourt is in the NGV. I am writing a comprehensive biography, started by my late mother. Rod Tuson great nephew