Skip to main content

Portrait Assortment

Reflections on portraiture

It is a painful truth, but one which must be faced up to, that the pavlova, that iconic Australian dessert, a staple since the 1930s, was actually invented in New Zealand.

The pavlova was named in honour of the great Russian ballerina Anna Matveyevna Pavlova (1885–1931), who toured Australia and New Zealand for J. C. Williamson in 1926 (March to August), when Robert Helpmann (aged seventeen) was among the local cast of supernumeraries.

On the day before the Hon. E. G. Whitlam, AC, QC, died last month, at the great age of 98, there were seven former prime ministers of Australia still living, plus the incumbent Mr. Abbott – eight in all. Mr. Whitlam was by far the longest-lived of all our prime ministers (thus far); only three others have lived longer than 90 years: Sir John Gorton, Frank Forde, and Billy Hughes. When Hughes took office on 27 October 1915, all six of his predecessors were still alive, a 100% survival rate – though Sir Edmund Barton, Alfred Deakin and Sir George Reid all died between September 1918 and January 1920 (though none of the Spanish ’flu).

I suspect that, like me, many more of our visitors than would perhaps care to admit it occasionally take careful note of which sitters share their own birth year. This may prompt us to make a necessarily discreet assessment of how this or that subject who is our exact contemporary was faring at the date when he or she was portrayed, compared with our own remembered self at the same age. Entirely subjective feelings of secret pleasure, smugness, or indeed dissatisfaction or deep inadequacy may arise as a consequence, but I think rarely indifference.

On July 1, 1795, Sir Joseph Banks was created Knight Grand Cross in what was then formally known as the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath. This signal honour, awarded to Banks despite his conspicuous lack of military rank, was bestowed instead in recognition of his services to the crown in the fields of natural science and exploration.

Banks had sailed with James Cook aboard H.M.S. Endeavour (1768-71), and financed two other naturalists to assist him on the voyage, Daniel Solander and Herman Spöring; two artists, Sydney Parkinson and John Reynolds, and two of Banks’s own African servants. Upon their return to England the voyage of the Endeavour immediately made Cook and Banks famous.