My Favourite Painting: Francesca Cumani

The racing correspondent and television presenter chooses a Lowry-esque take on the Melbourne Cup.

Francesca Cumani on The Melbourne Cup by Marlene Gilson

‘I saw this painting a couple of years ago, when I was visiting my brother in Australia. He lives in Victoria and trains horses from near Ballarat, not far from Melbourne. I think I was looking for Christmas presents and stumbled upon the gallery where this picture was hanging.

‘Obviously, I’m naturally drawn to a racing scene and I loved the way an indigenous artist had interpreted the crowds and the colour on the biggest race day of the year down under — and given it a ‘picnic-racing’ day look and feel.’

Francesca Cumani is a racing correspondent. She is the presenter of ITV Racing and of Channel Ten’s racing coverage in Australia.

John McEwen on Marlene Gilson

Marlene Gilson was born in Australia and took up painting at 63, when convalescing. Her pictures often re-tell her grandmother’s stories of the colonial impact on her Aboriginal ancestors’ lands, which today lie within Victoria: Ballarat, Werribee, Geelong. The pictures offer an alternative history of the continent. Land Lost, Land Stolen, Treaty (2016), for example, tells of the Englishman John Batman, who uniquely purchased land from its old owners. ‘Batman’s Treaty’ was declared void by the New South Wales governor.

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People take precedence in Mrs Gilson’s pictures, placed at intervals to punctuate the canvas, usually regardless of perspective. In The Melbourne Cup, she shows the 1861 first running of today’s richest handicap for Thoroughbreds. Frederick Standish, a member of the Victorian Turf Club, was credited with the idea of the race and its name.

As is shown, one horse bolted before the start and the winner was a bay stallion, Archer, which easily beat the favourite, Mormon. Archer was a Sydney ‘outsider’, so his owners left with a lot more money than the first prize of 710 gold sovereigns and a hand-beaten gold watch.

Mrs Gilson has had fun with artistic licence. There is a hot-dog stand, although the first ‘hot dogs’ — frankfurters, ‘dachshund sausages’ — were not sold until later, in New York. The chequered flag was first seen in 1906, at an American motor race; it is not used in horse racing. Elegant attire remains the guideline there, famously upheld by Francesca Cumani.