Degree Name

Doctor of Creative Arts


School of the Arts, English and Media


This thesis comprises an exegesis and a biographical novel, A Painter in Paris, which centres on the life of the Australian Impressionist John Russell (1858–1930). A key challenge which arose during my creative practice informs my research question: how do biographical novelists create authentic voices for fictional protagonists based on historical painters? Focussing on the thriving sub-category of biofiction, this thesis explores research pathways that I identified during my practice – ethics, place and art. My investigation led me to explore notions of authenticity and to examine biofiction theorists such as Michael Lackey, Lucia Boldrini and Catherine Padmore, to better understand the distinct aspects and contentious nature of the literary form. Using as case studies three biographical novels based on historical artists, and also through an examination of my own practice, I investigate how ethical issues linked to the use of real identities, as well as visiting the places where the figures once lived and the art of the historical painters, help writers create authentic voices for fictional artist-protagonists.

My research found that to do this biographical novelists must know the historical facts and then follow ethical protocols – which I propose and collate – and draw on “informed imagination” to express the aspects of the artist-figures’ lives that resonate with them. Important also when aiming to create authentic voices for historical artist-protagonists is a “bodily comprehension” of the places the historical figure lived and worked, and an in-depth study of the colour and subject of the artist’s paintings. In making this argument, I approach the term “authentic” in a way that aligns with how artists such as Russell and the Impressionists viewed authenticity in art. Rather than aiming to accurately represent what they saw, the fin de siècle painters sought to convey the essential characteristics they perceived in the subjects. Similarly, my creative work, A Painter in Paris, which involved extensive historical research relating to Russell and his life, presents a subjective vision. Thus, while my exegesis extends our understanding of the ways biographical novelists shape authentic voices for their protagonists based on historical painters, my novel contributes to Australian biofiction and offers a fresh, fictional exploration of a rich creative life.


Appendix 1 is under embargo until 17th August 2025

FoR codes (2020)

3602 Creative and professional writing



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.