It’s a striking portrait of a young man about to head off to war. He stares straight at the camera, the words “Forget me not” carefully painted on the reverse of the intricate glass frame. Sadly, no one knows who he is.
His portrait is one of 13 rare and fragile portraits on display in Framing memory, an exhibition of reverse-painted glass framed photographs at the Australian War Memorial.
Curator Joanne Smedley hopes the exhibition will help identify him.
“It’s a bit of a mystery,” she said. “We know his photograph was taken by the Crown Studios in Sydney, but the Crown Studies suffered a catastrophic fire in 1918 that destroyed their negatives and their records, so I don’t know if we’ll ever find out who he is, but I hope so.”
The Memorial holds the largest-known collection of these rare and fragile reverse-painted glass framed portraits. This exhibition is the first time 13 of them have been on display together. A fourteenth portrait is on display in the First World War Galleries.
“They’re very personal memorials, and that’s the thing that is quite striking about them,” Smedley said.
“They are beautifully framed portraits of soldiers that have been framed in the most unusual way, and when you see them all together you just get a sense of the differences and the styles.
“The surrounds, which are quite colourful, include flags and floral emblems, such as waratahs, forget-me-nots and flannel flowers, that have been painted on the reverse on the glass that covers the portrait.
“The colours are just so luminous because they are painted on glass, and they’re all a little bit different, which is why I think they’re also quite charming.”