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Two portrait paintings of significant figures from Sydney’s colonial history went on permanent public display at St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst on August 22, 2011 at a Blessing ceremony.

Award-winning artist Josonia Palaitis was commissioned by the Trustees of St Vincent’s Hospital to paint portraits of the Hon. John Hubert Plunkett QC and Sister Baptist De Lacy, co-founders and first trustees of the hospital. Both came to Sydney from Ireland in the 1830s.

Sr Baptist De Lacy (1799 – 1879) and four other Sisters of Charity were the colony’s first nuns, arriving in 1839. They worked tirelessly visiting gaols, hospitals and schools in Sydney and Parramatta. Sr Baptist De Lacy came to Australia knowing her calling was to set up a hospital, which she did in 1852. The original location was at Tarmons House, Potts Point - the setting for the portrait. She returned to Ireland in 1859.

John Hubert Plunkett (1802 – 1869) arrived in 1832 as the appointed NSW Solicitor-General, later to become Attorney-General. He was a barrister and QC. In 1857-58 he was President of the NSW Legislative Council. Palaitis has depicted him in this role in her portrait.

Plunkett was a well-known and liked public figure. His diligence and sense of public duty was to have a significant influence for generations to come.

He laid the foundations for progress in civic, legal and social spheres including Catholic emancipation, the anti-transportation movement, legal protection for convicts and the movement towards protection for Aborigines. He established the foundations for a comprehensive and ongoing public education system. Streets, schools, and other public facilities are named after this most notable historic figure.

“The research behind the portraits was fascinating and decisions for the imagery challenging with few of images of Plunkett in existence and none of Sr Baptist De Lacy. From written comments about her personality, temperament and activities I was able to draw deep from within to visualize an image. With the collaboration of a friend whom I chose as my model, I slowly brought forth the image that will define this remarkable woman,” the artist explains.

Jo Palaitis with Tony Earls, author of Plunkett's Legacy at the Blessing of the portraits.

Josonia Palaitis enjoys an outstanding career as an artist. She has taken on many challenging and unusual painting commissions. The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra commissioned her in 2000 to paint the double portrait of John and Janette Howard. In 2002 she was commissioned to paint the Childers Memorial portrait depicting 15 backpackers who perished in a hostel fire in Queensland. Palaitis has won the won the Doug Moran Prize and the Archibald People’s Choice with a portrait of cartoonist Bill Leak. Her portraits have been seen in many Archibald, Doug Moran and Portia Geach exhibitions since 1979.


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