May 14

Wattle painting replica acquired for the nation

The National Museum of Australia has bought the first of two replicas of the celebrated painting of Queen Elizabeth by Sir William Dargie which hangs on permanent loan in Parliament House Canberra. The Museum has paid more than $120,000. The second replica is in The Queen’s collection and is believed to be a favourite of hers. 

The Museum’s senior curator Guy Hanson told the ABC that the portrait is instantly recognisable to many Australians. "In this painting, Dargie has depicted the Queen in the very famous wattle dress," he said. "It's also the young Queen, so it's the Queen Australia fell in love with after the royal tour in 1954. The image was very popular and reproductions of the images were used in places like RSL clubs, schools and various places."

 

Mr Hanson says he is yet to decide what to do with the painting. "When the painting is received in Canberra we will start exploring opportunities for displaying it," he said.  "It will be in museum exhibitions and I suspect on occasion it will be on loan to other galleries and locations around Australia."

….the history of the original portrait…

The original portrait is one of the most recognisable examples of twentieth century Australian art. It was commissioned by James P. Beveridge OBE to commemorate the 1954 Royal Tour of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.  

The Queen sat for Sir William Dargie at Buckingham Palace in 1954, staying with Sir Neil and Lady Hamilton Fairley near Grosvenor Square for two months. Sir Neil Hamilton Fairley KBE, MD, FRS was an Australian physician and soldier who in the Second World War saved thousands from malaria and other diseases.

There were seven sittings at Buckingham Palace. Sir William remarked that Her Majesty talked and behaved “as naturally as if I were a friend who had called in for afternoon tea.”

The original portrait was presented to the nation by Mrs Beveridge at Parliament House, Canberra in 1955 appropriately on The Queen’s birthday, 21 April.  It was received by The Rt. Hon. R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia with the approval of His Excellency the Governor-General Sir William Slim.

The portrait remains on long-term loan for display at Parliament House.

While in England, Sir William painted a second replica copy from the original. He did this because he feared it might be damaged or lost in transit. He later gave this second portrait to Lady Hamilton Fairley on a visit to England in 1955.  

During this visit The Queen, who was delighted with the original portrait, asked that he paint a third replica. This remains one of only a few paintings of herself which she has kept.

In 2009 Lady Hamilton Fairley’s granddaughter decided to sell the second replica through Bonhams & Goodman.

…an iconic painting …

According to experts, the painting has become one of the most recognisable examples of Australian portraiture, displayed in all manner of places. They report that for many post-war immigrants this work was their first encounter with an artwork by an Australian artist. The work was reproduced on Australian naturalisation papers and a print of the work was generally present in local town halls where many naturalisation ceremonies took place.

Despite the landslide rejection of the republican referendum in 1999, some republican politicians have been intent on removing portraits of The Queen from public display. This was done in the New South Wales Parliament for the publicly stated reason that sunlight was damaging the portrait.

Notwithstanding such disrespect both to the Sovereign and the people, the painting retains a special place in the hearts of Australians.
 

With the sparkling gold wattle motifs adorning the mimosa gold tulle dress, The Queen’s dress is unambiguously Australian.  Designed by the noted couturier Norman Hartnell, it was worn by The Queen on her first evening engagement of  in Sydney and to her last evening function in Perth before leaving Australia. Her necklace of diamond flowers was a wedding present from the Nizam of Hyderabad; the diamond tiara was bequeathed to her by Queen Mary, her grandmother.

The painting will forever be connected with the enormously successful 1954 Royal Tour, the first by a reigning monarch. For eight weeks from 3 February 1954, The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited all states and Canberra. It is estimated almost three quarters of the population saw her at least once. As with many of my contemporaries, I saw her on seveal occasions.   

Sir William painted eight Archibald Prize-winning portraits. He was an official Australian War Artist during World War II, and painted a number of portraits of other members of the Royal Family. This painting is thought to be one of his outstanding works. The skilful conveyance of the freshness and vitality of the young Queen is often commented upon.

The  Museum is to be congratulated for acquiring this treasure for the nation.

 


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