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The Australian PM & The Queen’s Wattle Portrait

It seems that since his party’s election last September, the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has had a search underway for a portrait of The Queen to hang in the foyer of his parliamentary office. Mr. Abbott is a confessed ‘incorrigible anglophile’ and ardent monarchist who broke with recent practice, and was sworn in as prime minister with an oath to The Queen rather than pledging to serve the Commonwealth of Australia.

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Queen Elizabeth at Parliament House Canberra in 1954 with then prime minister Sir Robert Menzies

The Prime Minister’s stance echoes that of another age and another prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies, who was prime minister during Her Majesty’s coronation tour of Australia in 1954, and famously said of The Queen, “I did but see her passing by and yet I love her till I die.” Mr. Abbott declined to have the only painting held by Parliament, William Dargie’s 1954 Wattle Portrait, moved from the public area of Parliament House in Canberra, and instead  instituted a search for a copy of the painting which had recently been acquired by the National Museum of Australia. See portrait here. The copy has an interesting history but was not part of the 1954 commission by Melbourne industrialist James P. Beveridge to Dargie, and is one of three ‘Wattle portraits’ completed by the artist. After the commissioned portrait was completed in London, it was officially presented to the Commonwealth on 21 April 1955,  and is owned by the Historical Memorials Committee. The painting is  on long-term loan for permanent display at Parliament House. The first copy was created by the artist after the original arrived safely in Australia. origin_7195940572The Wattle painting is famous in Australia as the country’s first official portrait of the newly crowned Queen, which was reproduced and installed in government offices, schools and institutions, and included on official documents including certificates of citizenship. It includes significant mementoes of the 1954 tour including a depiction of the Wattle Brooch presented to The Queen by the Government of Australia. The brooch, of yellow, white and blue diamonds, was designed and made by the Budapest-born jeweller Paul Schneller, and commissioned by William Drummond & Co. of Melbourne. The yellow diamonds, representing Australian wattle, are backed by blue-white diamonds in the form of mimosa leaves. The brooch also incorporates diamonds in the form of the blossom of the tea tree with a large white diamond at the centre. It is something of a favourite of The Queen’s who not only wore it twice during the tour  but has worn it many times since. The Queen posed for Dargie at Buckingham Palace in seven sessions wearing the brooch pinned to the right shoulder of a Norman Hartnell gown designed for the Australian tour in mimosa gold tulle embroidered with wattle motifs. The brooch held a spray of mimosa. Her Majesty’s jewellery also included the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara, a wedding gift from Queen Mary and the Nizam of Hyderabad necklace, recently worn by the Duchess of Cambridge to the National Portrait Gallery and diamond earrings. Because of the Impressionist style of the painting, the diamond earrings are indistinct. The painting was a success, and The Queen commissioned a copy for herself which is now in the Royal Collection. The second copy was created as a back-up for the original which had been dispatched from London to Canberra by air. It is this copy that is now hanging in Mr Abbott’s office. Not trusting air freight, Dargie wasn’t sure the painting would arrive, so he made a copy which he painted upside down so any temptation to change details was avoided. He  also added an inscription to the back explaining his intention that “at least one version” would make it safely home if disaster struck. If Mr Abbott were to inspect the reverse of his painting, he would find Dargie’s words,

“I painted this copy of my portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II of England from my own original painting at 81 Duke Street; London W1, in November-December 1954. This copy was made to ensure the safe delivery to the Australian Commonwealth Government of at least one version of this portrait, as the painting was to be air-freighted from London to Australia. William Dargie, WA Dargie, 25.8.55. Presented to Lady Hamilton Fairley, in whose House this was painted. Dargie.” The second painting was sent after the first had arrived safely in Australia. It was taken on tour before Dargie gave it to Lady Mary Hamilton Fairley, his host in London while he worked on the portraits. The portrait is now in the collection of the National Museum of Australia in Canberra which paid $146,400 to acquire it from the Fairleys at auction.
Sir William Alexander Dargie CBE 1912-2003)  won a record eight Archibald prizes for portraiture and  was an official Australian war artist during WWII. He painted the Duke of Edinburgh in 1956.

Photo credits: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons, BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives via photopin cc

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