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Sir Zelman Cowen, 2000

Wes Walters

oil on canvas (frame: 135.0 cm x 89.0 cm, support: 122.0 cm x 76.3 cm)

The Rt Hon Sir Zelman Cowen AK GCMG GCVO QC DCL (1919-2011), academic, writer and former Governor-General, was educated at Scotch College and the University of Melbourne before serving in the navy in World War 2. After the war, he went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. From 1951 to 1966 he was dean of the law faculty at the University of Melbourne; during this period he worked often in American universities, advised the British government on constitutional issues and wrote the biography of Sir Isaac Isaacs, Australian-born Jewish governor-general. In 1970 he became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland. Seven years later, at the invitation of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, he succeeded Sir John Kerr as Governor-General; it has often been observed that he did much to restore the status of the vice-regal post. Returning to Oxford University in the 1980s, he became Provost of Oriel College and later Pro-Vice Chancellor. He published widely on aspects of law but also attempted to enhance public comprehension of perplexing constitutional issues, particularly the question of an Australian republic. Cowen's autobiography, A Public Life, was published in 2006.

Wes Walters (1928-2014) enjoyed a successful career as a commercial artist before coming to specialise in portraiture. When he won the Archibald Prize in 1979 for a painting of Phillip Adams, his subject predicted correctly that the 'arties' would be furious at the judges' choice, because of Walters's background in commercial art.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Marc Besen AO and Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE 2000

Accession number: 2000.28

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Wes Walters (age 72 in 2000)

Rt Hon Sir Zelman Cowen AK GCMG GCVO QC DCL (age 81 in 2000)

Donated by

Joseph Brown AO OBE (4 portraits)

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