Bertram Mackennal was one of the most successful Australian artists working internationally in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His profile and performance in Britain, where he lived as an expatriate, substantially outshone that of his Australian peers such as Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton. ‘The dancer’, acquired by the Art Gallery of NSW in 1910, was the first work by Mackennal to be purchased by an Australian public gallery (the National Gallery of Victoria bought his ‘Circe’ later the same year). Mackennal was born in 1863 at Fitzroy, Melbourne. His first training was with his father, John Simpson Mackennal, a locally prominent architectural modeller and sculptor. This was followed by formal instruction at the National Gallery School of Design under OR Campbell from 1878. Mackennal left Australia for London in 1882, and was admitted to the Royal Academy schools as a sculpture student in late 1883. After a short period, Mackennal moved to Paris, dissatisfied with his sculptural training in London. He took a studio and worked independently, while also meeting various sculptors, including Auguste Rodin, and learning from their methods. In Paris, Mackennal married Agnes Spooner, and they returned to England for the birth of their child in 1885. Influenced in the 1880s by the avant-garde aspirations of British ‘New Sculptors’, Mackennal had become a prominent civic sculptor and a master of Edwardian style by the early 1900s. He acutely understood sculpture as an art of patronage, and demonstrated his ability to work quickly and completely within the dictates of convention by undertaking various commissions for public monuments. Mackennal was the first Australian artist to have his work purchased for the Tate gallery. He was also the first Australian artist to be knighted and to become a full member of London’s Royal Academy. ‘The dancer’ is a life-size bronze nude, characteristic of Mackennal’s sculpture in its expressive modelling and direct sense of life. It reveals his skill in dealing with complex movement. The work presents a figure arrested in action: the dancer arches and turns her body with twin spiral movements from legs to spine and shoulders. Her pose is relaxed as she steps forward, flourishing Spanish castanets, her outstretched foot lightly touching the ground. Through the carefully balanced pose, the work expresses a sense of graceful movement and a relaxed sensuality. The influence of Symbolism and Art Nouveau can be seen in the simple planes of the work.