The 1954 William Dargie Portrait of H.M. Elizabeth II will go on sale at Bonhams Australian and International Fine Art Sale in Melbourne on 6th May, where it is expected to fetch between £25,000-35,000.
In 1954, Dargie was by then a seven-time winner of the Archibald Prize for portraiture. For this, his most significant commission, he arrived in London on Tuesday 19 October 1954 and stayed at the home of Sir Neil and Lady Hamilton Fairley at 81 Duke Street, Grosvenor Square:
Speaking about his first meeting with her Majesty he said: “The Queen was marvelous. In ten minutes she had done everything to put me at my ease – and to think of how many times I have had to put other sitters at their ease. She did it by talking & behaving as naturally as if I were a friend who had called in for afternoon tea. She talked about “my husband”, and the London traffic, and the difficulties of finding the best sort of central heating for “my house”. She got me to tell her about my flight by Qantas from Australia – and then there was a buzzing noise outside the window and she said, “Oh, my family regard the Palace grounds as their private airfield. There is my uncle coming home”. Outside, floating down over the Mall was a helicopter. The uncle, it turned out was the Duke of Gloucester.
When the portrait was completed Dargie returned to the Palace for the Queen’s reaction. “Last Thursday the Queen requested this and said she liked the painting so much – “such a nice friendly portrait”. I rather gather most of the family will be there.” (William Dargie to James P. Beveridge Junior, 12 December 1954.)
“I’m not very skilled with words, so all I can say is that she is a very wonderful person, most human, most natural and charming, and a Queen. There is no doubt about that last, either.”
“But there is one other most important point. She is a very beautiful woman, and no portrait or photograph I have yet seen does her anything like justice. I think personally I am doing better than I could have expected, indeed this could turn out to be the best woman’s portrait I have ever done, but that of course is only my opinion & there is quite a long way to go yet.”
“My own attitude, which I maintain is of some importance, is that it is a portrait of which I have less to be ashamed as an artist than any other woman’s portrait I have painted…I have tried to paint my sitter as both a beautiful and very feminine woman and as a Queen…” (William Dargie to James P. Beveridge Junior, 4 December 1954.)
DUPLICATE IMAGE MADE TO SAFEGUARD THE WORK
“Now about getting the portrait (and myself) back to (good old) Aussie. I have been in touch with T.A.A. and there is a Viscount leaving about January 6th and it should arrive about 8 days later in Melbourne. I am planning to catch that plane. To safeguard the painting, I am now busy making a replica, which I shall send ahead by air freight with Qantas.”
“I expect to leave on a Qantas flight on the 6th, which should arrive 10th. One portrait will travel with me, the other on another flight another day. Each will be insured for £1,000.” (William Dargie to James P. Beveridge Junior, 24 December 1954.)
With both paintings (and the artist) returning safely to Australia, one version was officially presented by Mrs Beveridge, on behalf of the late James P. Beveridge OBE, at a Presentation Ceremony held in King’s Hall, Parliament House, Canberra, on 21 April 1955, and received by The Rt. Hon. R. G. Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, through His Excellency, the Governor-General, Sir William Slim. This painting commenced a tour of Australian state galleries, including the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, (May – June 1955), and the National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, (June – July 1955), before returning to London on 15 August 1955 for inclusion in the Annual Exhibition of Royal Society of Portrait Painters (November – December 1955):
“At the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the portrait of the Queen by Australian William A. Dargie confidently took the honours. It showed Her Majesty in a yellow evening dress against a greenish background – a dominant scheme that allowed the colour and youth of her features to glow without distraction from any other part of the composition.”
William Dargie’s original portrait of the sovereign in her ‘wattle’ dress soon became Australia’s most reproduced and famous painting. Colour prints were produced and began to appear in Federal, State and Local Government Departments, and many schools, hospitals, libraries, church halls and Returned and Services League clubrooms throughout the nation. For many ‘new arrivals’ to Australia, the painting was their first encounter with Australian art, with an image appearing on Australian naturalisation papers and usually presiding in the venue naturalisation ceremonies occurred.
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