Anti-smokers repaint history by removing cigarette

By Elizabeth Fortescue

IT was the smoking gun that left a Sydney council gasping for breath. Just what did happen to the cigarette dangling from the mouth of local artist Antonio Datitlo-Rubbo in his self portrait?

Manly Council took its anti-smoking stance to breath-taking lengths by “removing” the offending cigarette and another smouldering in an ashtray in a version of the painting it posted on its website. But according to Council, the mysterious disappearance of the offending cigarettes was a simple, embarrassing and regrettable mistake – and the original painting has not been disturbed.

When alerted to the gaffe yesterday, the council whipped the altered painting off its website and replaced it with a cropped version of the original in which a cigarette dangles from the artist’s mouth and another smoulders in an ashtray.

According to Manly Council’s general manager Henry Wong, the error occurred in January when the council was preparing a publicity brochure on a new website dedicated to Dattilo-Rubbo, who had lived locally. Mr Wong and Mayor Jean Hay both objected to the self portrait The Artist and the Model, 1940, which had been selected for the brochure.

The council owns the painting, which hangs in the Manly Art Gallery and Museum. “Because we are very strong in being anti-cigarettes, we didn’t feel it was good for council to be using that image,” Ms Hay said yesterday. But she said the directive to remove the image and replace it with another one was misinterpreted as a directive to remove the cigarettes.

Council’s communications officer got rid of the cigarettes and the altered image appeared on the council’s website. “When I saw it on the Saturday, I didn’t even notice the cigarette had gone,” Ms Hay said.

The image was on the website until late yesterday but was removed after an email from Eliot Ramsey of the Australia-New Zealand Art Censorship Resistance Alliance.

“It was a mistake,” Mr Wong said. “We are sincerely sorry.” Manly Council has banned smoking on beaches and outdoor dining areas in the Corso, introducing fines for locals who light up in public.

The artist’s granddaughter Anna Rubbo said it was “the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time”. “In those days everyone smoked. It’s like all the old movies. If you airbrushed cigarettes out of Humphrey Bogart movies, where would you be?” she said.

Manly art consultant David Hulme, who created the Dattilo-Rubbo website, was not amused. “It’s appalling. It’s taking away the integrity of the painting,” he said.

Visit Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo’s website to see the painting ‘The artist and his model’.

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