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Sir Zelman Cowen
, 2000

by 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, Canberra
Gift of Marc Besen AO and Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE 2000
Accession number: 2000.28