‘Old Ladies Can Dooit’

Jenny Sages Portrait of Irina Baranova

On a wall in her studio, Jenny Sages (1933-) has written the phrase ‘OLD LADIES CAN DOOIT.’ Though the extra O was a charming mistake, it is a message that resonates throughout Sages’ prolific career as a portraitist and abstract painter.

Born in 1933, she spent most of her life as a fashion illustrator before visiting the Kimberley in her fifties. Sages speaks with great reverence about experiencing the landscape, the Indigenous community, and her time spent with renowned artist, Emily Kngwarreye. It was this trip which inspired her to pursue art-making full time.

Since then, Sages has gone on to be a finalist in the Archibald Prize twenty times, even winning the People’s Choice Award in 2012. This artwork is a charcoal study for the painting she submitted in 2007, Irina Baranova (passing on the baton).

Irina Baranova (1919-2008) was a Russian ballerina of the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo, a renowned ballet company which toured extensively through Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and the Americas between 1931 and 1947. Her talent led to an appearance in four films and a respected career as a teacher and patron of ballet.

Sages has never received a commission for her portraits because she is only inspired to paint those she feels a unique connection with. In this case, she felt an immediate closeness to Baranova due to her own Russian parentage. She noted that Baranova’s voice made her emotional, as it reminded her of her mother.

In this charcoal sketch we see the beginnings of Sages’ grander vision: a portrait of Baranova passionately passing on the art she had dedicated her life to maintaining. The detail attentively conveyed through the glint in Baranova’s eyes or the lines of experience on her face reveal Sages’ love for the creative force of older women.