This is one of a few hundred pen and ink line drawings produced for the anthropologist, the late Professor Donald Thomson. At least five women artists produced scientific illustrations of biological specimens and anthropological objects under Thomson's direction at the University of Melbourne over five decades beginning in the late 1920s. The majority of the line drawings of ethnographic objects were done by Joan Elizabeth Clark, who worked for him from 1946 to 1952. This drawing is of a 'biting bag', or madjidi, which is held in the mouth by men in Arnhem Land when they fight. The bag was collected by Donald Thomson in the 1930s or early 1940s in Arnhem Land, and, with the drawing, is to be found in the Donald Thomson Collection.

Physical Description

Pen and ink drawing on paper. Signed and dated, 'Biting Bag Full size Figure No 11, J.E.C. [Joan Elizabeth Clark] 28.10.52'. The original object was collected from the Arnhem Land region.


This pen and ink line drawing is one of few signed works produced by Joan Clark for Donald Thomson to illustrate his publications. She produced a significant body of works illustrating objects from Thomson's collection which were intended for a book 'Aborigines of Australia' that was never published. While most likely the last work that Clark produced for Thomson, it is also perhaps her finest with the texture of the string, the softness of the possum fur and down and the intricate work in reproducing every single looping stitch renders it both a technical and aesthetic masterpiece that would have taken a number of days to complete. Donald Thomson was so impressed by Clark's artistic talent that he is known to have often remarked that 'her work was seldom equalled and never surpassed'.

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