Million Dollar Mermaid - Annette Kellerman by Wendy Sharpe

Australian National Maritime Museum
Darling Harbour
13 December 2005 - 12 March 2006

A lively new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum celebrates the flamboyant life of Australia's very own mermaid - Annette Kellerman - and explores her spectacular rise to international stardom.

Million Dollar Mermaid - Annette Kellerman by Wendy Sharpe brings together a series of bold and sensual works by Sydney artist Wendy Sharpe done as studies for her huge murals at Sydney's Cook + Phillip Park pool.

Sharpe's lush and figurative style conveys the theatricality of Kellerman's extravagant lifestyle from champion marathon swimmer to vaudeville and silent film 'super-star' during the early 20th Century.

Sharpe presents highlights from Kellerman's career including her early swimming success, her race down the Seine in Paris in 1907, and her profile as a women's health advocate.

A star attraction of the exhibition includes Sharpe's study of Kellerman in her famed swimsuit in Boston. In 1906 Kellerman, once dubbed "the perfect woman", appeared on a Boston beach in her revealing one-piece bathing suit where she was quickly arrested for indecent exposure.

Kellerman's arrest came in an era when clingy woollen swimsuits were considered risque and even pornographic - especially in Europe and America. Her move to vaudeville theatre in America, titillating underwater films and trademark figure-hugging suits pushed the boundaries of 20th century propriety and turned her into an international star.

Born in 1886 in Marrickville, Sydney, Kellerman was a NSW swimming champion who left for England aged 18 to help her cash-strapped family. In Europe, she built a name for herself in long distance swimming and exotic swimming and diving demonstrations. By 1906 she had moved to vaudeville theatre in America as 'Australia's Mermaid' and quickly progressed to the big screen. Kellerman enjoyed tremendous success as a silent movie star in mythological underwater films, including Neptune's Daughter.

Wendy Sharpe, born in 1960, has won the Archibald and Sulman prizes, the Portia Geach Memorial Award and two travelling art scholarships.

The museum will present a free screening of 'Million Dollar Mermaid' - the 1952 feature film on Kellerman starring Esther Williams at 1.30pm on Sunday 18 December. Senior Curator Daina Fletcher will also host a special viewing of the exhibition on Thursday, 16 February 2006.

The Australian National Maritime Museum, at Darling Habrour, is open daily 9.30 am to 5 pm (6pm in January). Admission free. All inquiries (02) 9298 3777.

 

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