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Sketch for Prime Minister Robert Menzies
, 1960

by William Dobell

watercolour and gouache on paper (sheet: 25.2 cm x 24.0 cm)

Rt Hon Sir Robert Gordon Menzies KT AK CH PC QC (1894–1978) was Prime Minister of Australia for a total of nineteen years – from 1939 to 1941 as leader of the United Australia Party, and again from 1949 to 1966 as leader of the Liberal Party, of which he was a founder. Time magazine commissioned three-time Archibald winner Sir William Dobell to paint a portrait of Menzies for the cover of its issue of 4 April 1960, which contained a very long article detailing ‘the speed with which Australia is coming of age’ under Menzies’s ‘decade of unabashed wooing of free enterprise’. (The piece quoted a senior Australian diplomat who asserted ‘Nowadays we can talk to anybody in the world without any sense of innate inferiority.’) Dobell had less than a fortnight in which to create the cover image, and was able to secure only two sittings with Menzies in Canberra. He commented that Menzies was an ‘extremely good’ sitter, ‘very easy and relaxed’. In the process of producing a portrait, Dobell often followed pencil drawings with quite detailed sketches in oils. He made this preliminary sketch for the Time commission during the Canberra sittings.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds provided by L Gordon Darling AC CMG 1999
Accession number: 1999.40