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How (not) to paint a prime minister

Picture

Vincent Fantauzzo, The Hon. Julia Gillard AC, 2018, Parliament House Art Collection. Photograph: Vincent Fantauzzo/Parliament House Art Collection
In October 2018 a commissioned portrait of Australia’s 27th prime minister, Julia Gillard, was unveiled in Parliament House in Canberra.  It was different from all of its predecessors for a couple of reasons – it was the first female in the line-up of the previous all-male prime ministers and it was the first ‘giant head’ style portrait.

In all, there have been twenty-five prime ministerial portraits commissioned as part of the Historic Memorials Collection that consists of about 250 works, predominantly portraits.

Portraits of women subjects in the Historic Memorials Collection are in short supply and include William Dargie‘s portrait of Enid Lyons (1951) and Archie Colquhoun‘s portrait of Senator Dorothy Tangney (1946) commemorating their respective roles as the first female member of Federal Parliament and as the first female senator.  There is of course Dargie’s portrait of the Queen, but this probably doesn’t count, although she is Australia’s head of state.

The commissioning of prime ministerial portraits used to run like clockwork.  Once the prime minister left office, within a couple of years they were invited to select an artist to execute their official portrait with an Official Artists Register for the Historic Memorials Committee (now administered by the National Portrait Gallery) offered as a non-binding guide to recommended artists.

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