# 24416

WILLETTS, George (1841-1909)

Portrait of young pianist Miss Ada Willetts, taken by her father, professional photographer George Willetts. Ballarat, circa 1890.

$450.00 AUD

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Albumen print, carte de visite format, 110 x 63 mm (mount); recto of mount imprinted in gold ‘Willetts, Photo., Ballarat’; verso with the decorative back mark of ‘Willetts Photographic Temple of Light, Bridge Street, Ballarat’, and with an identifying caption in pencil in contemporaneous hand: ‘Miss Ada Willetts’; the strong albumen print has some mottling in the negative but is otherwise in fine condition, as is the mount.

Proud Ballarat professional photographer George Willetts took this artistic portrait of his gifted daughter, budding classical pianist Ada, in his Bridge Street studio around 1889-1890. There are no portraits of Ada Willetts in Australian collections, and this carte de visite is quite possibly unique.

George Willetts was born in Gloucester in 1841 and emigrated to Port Phillip with his older sister, Sarah, apparently at some point in the early 1860s. Sarah married Melbourne photographer William Paterson in 1863. In 1866, George married Maria Doyle in Belfast (Port Fairy), western Victoria, and the couple settled in Ballarat, where – perhaps inspired and encouraged by his brother-in-law – George set himself up as a professional photographer. George and Maria’s first child, Ada Marion, was born in Ballarat in 1868. She was the oldest of George and Maria’s seven children and had a precocious talent for music. In August and September 1885, at the age of 16, she gave solo recitals at the piano in two concerts at Ballarat’s Alfred Hall, performing on the same bill as Nellie Melba. Having initially received lessons from Ballarat music teacher Mr. Richardson, Ada undertook further studies in Melbourne under Mademoiselle Charbonnet and Madame Tasca. The following glowing mention of Ada appeared in The Ballarat Star, 26 June, 1888, after her move to Melbourne: ‘… Miss Willetts is remembered as a youthful prodigy whose clever performances won for her the highest encomiums of press and public, both here and in Melbourne. Her execution is always clear, crisp, and true, and her style is all that can be desired, as indeed it should be, considering the training she has undergone. It remains yet to be seen whether she will still further develop and eventually take up a position in the front rank of lady pianistes.’

In 1891 Ada married Alfred George Curthoys, a Ballarat pharmaceutical chemist. They had four children, all born in Ballarat: Roy Lancaster Curthoys (b. 1892), Clive Willetts Curthoys (b. 1894), Ada Willetts Curthoys (b. 1895, died in infancy), and Brenda Cora Curthoys (b. 1895).

The couple emigrated to Perth, Western Australia in 1897, where Ada resumed her career on the stage. The following review of her first Perth concert was published in The West Australian, 14 July, 1897: ‘Putting aside the appearance of the Liedertafel, certainly one of the most interesting features of a  generally attractive programme was the first appearance in this city of Miss Ada Willetts. A favourite pupil of both Madame Tasca and M. Kowalski, Miss Willetts has secured such favourable notice from the press of the Eastern colonies that, with her reputation preceding her, it is not to be wondered her appearance here should be welcomed. From the outset Miss Willetts commanded attention by her graceful presence at the instrument and her freedom from all the affectation to which many pianists are sadly prone. A careful interpretation of Chopin’s “Impromptu” (Op. 60), handicapped somewhat, it is true, by the muffled tone of her instrument, established Miss Willets as a player possessed of technique of a high order. The same unfaltering execution, heightened by grace and delicacy of perception, enabled Miss Willetts, in the second section of the programme, to gain distinction in one of Döhler’s commonplace salon pieces, bracketed with a Valse Caprice by Godard. Miss Willetts’ further appearance will looked for with pleasure.’

Ada continued to give recitals in Perth over the next few years, most notably at Queen’s Hall, and during Easter 1900 she was one of the leading performers in a troupe that toured the Western Australian goldfields, entertaining audiences at the Miner’s Institute in Kalgoorlie, and also in Coolgardie and Kanowna.

Ada died in Perth in 1935, survived by her husband and two sons, one of whom – Roy Lancaster Curthoys (1892-1971) – a distinguished career as a journalist (see ADB)