Noelle Sandwith, artist and nurse, was born on July 31, 1927. She died on April 21, 2006, aged 78.
Artist and nurse whose tour of the South Pacific yielded scenes of the outback - and the first portrait of the Queen of Tonga.
IN 1950 Noelle Sandwith went to Australia to visit her uncle, and with him went to Tonga, where she completed several paintings of the region before seeking work in Sydney.
Two years later, resisting family pressure to return, she set out on the Birdsville Track -one of the most famous of its kind in Australia, which runs from northern South Australia to Birdsville in southwestern Queensland -to discover the real Australia. She took buses and trains and hitched rides on trucks to some of the most remote parts.
She remained in the South Pacific for four more years, keeping a diary and travelling to numerous islands. In Tonga she taught English at the Free Church School in Naku'alofa, living for a year in a hut, and persuaded the personable Queen Salote to sit for a portrait -the first of her to be done.
Noelle Ora Sandwith was born in 1927, the only child of Francis and Frieda Johnson Sandwith, both authors and photojournalists. She was the great, great granddaughter of William Marsden (founder of the Royal Free and Royal Marsden hospitals), a descendant of Matthew Arnold.
She was brought up in Carshalton, Surrey, and went to Kingston upon Thames, Croydon and Heatherly art schools, where she became proficient in capturing the dynamics of the human form and sketching quick poses.
In her first job, for a small advertising agency, Sandwith drew portraits of film stars from photographs, which were hung in box offices to promote the latest films.
In 1956, after the medical example of her great, great grandfather, she enrolled to become a nurse at the Royal Free Hospital. Having completed her training in 1959 she became a staff nurse at St Mary's Hospital, London, in 1962. After a period working as a registered nurse in British Columbia she returned to London and was a health visitor in the boroughs of Newham, from 1972 to 1975, and Redbridge and Waltham Forest, from 1975 to 1979.
Resources permitting, she continued to visit unusual places. She also took courses in drawing and design, and latterly became interested in etching on copper.
In 1960 her work was exhibited in a one-woman show, Coolibahs to Coconuts, in Foyles Art Gallery. It was also included in exhibitions held by the Royal Society of British Artists, (1956 and 1958), the London Society of Women Artists (1961 and 1970) and the Brighton Art Gallery (1969). It appeared in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions and and the Heatherly School of Fine Art 150th anniversary exhibition in 1996.
Her work can be found today in, among other places, the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, the Centre for Anthropology in the British Museum, London, the National Museum of Australia in Canberra and the Auckland Museum in New Zealand.
In 2005 the National Museum of Australia mounted In Search of the Birdsville Track, using drawings, photographs and the diary kept by Sandwith on her 1952 journey. The exhibition is currently touring Australia and another is planned by the Auckland Museum.
Copyright (C) The Times, 2006
Sandwith became proficient in sketching quick poses