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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Radical Restraint Justice Michael Kirby, 1998

Ralph Heimans

oil on canvas (frame: 185.0 cm x 231.0 cm depth 4.4 cm, support: 183.1 cm x 228.7 cm)

The Hon. Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG (b.1939) was a Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1996 to 2009, having been President of the NSW Court of Appeal from 1984 to 1996. During his first year on the High Court, Kirby was plunged into the Wik Peoples vs The State of Queensland case, the first major Indigenous land title case following the Mabo decision of 1992. In December 1996 Kirby was amongst the judges who ruled that the grant of certain Queensland pastoral leases under past Land Acts did not extinguish Indigenous people’s rights and interests in the land involved – referring personally to the ‘duty which the Crown owed, in honour, to native people who were under the Crown’s protection’. In 1998, in response to the Wik decision, the Australian Government amended the 1993 Native Title Act, which had arisen out of the Mabo case. Michael Kirby has led or served on numerous international committees on subjects relating to human rights, ethics, bioethics and health. He was President of the International Commission of Jurists from 1995 to 1998; during this period, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, the University of Sydney.

This painting by Ralph Heimans (b. 1970) refers to a speech Kirby made when leaving the NSW Court of Appeal, paying tribute to the line of judges before him who wore ‘the crimson and fur’. Two former presidents, Justices Sugerman and Wallace, are identifiable. Before his retirement, Kirby worked nearly every waking moment, even listing his recreation, in Who’s Who, as ‘work’. In preparation for the painting, Heimans sketched him at his desk, and has said that Kirby’s rather impatient glance in the portrait reflects the judge’s expression as the artist asked him to look up for a moment.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds from the Basil Bressler Bequest 2001
© Ralph Heimans

Accession number: 2000.35

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Ralph Heimans (age 28 in 1998)

Justice Michael Kirby AC, CMG (age 59 in 1998)

Subject professions

Law and justice

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Portrait of HRH Crown Princess Mary, 2006 by Ralph Heimans
Portrait of HRH Crown Princess Mary, 2006 by Ralph Heimans
Portrait of HRH Crown Princess Mary, 2006 by Ralph Heimans
Portrait of HRH Crown Princess Mary, 2006 by Ralph Heimans

Dane reign

Magazine article by Mette Skougaard and Thomas Lyngby, 2018

Mette Skougaard and Thomas Lyngby bring eloquent context to Ralph Heimans’ portraits of Crown Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark.

The Coronation Theatre, Westminster Abbey: A Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2012
The Coronation Theatre, Westminster Abbey: A Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2012
The Coronation Theatre, Westminster Abbey: A Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2012
The Coronation Theatre, Westminster Abbey: A Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2012

Imagination

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2013

Dr Sarah Engledow tells the story of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee portrait by Australian artist Ralph Heimans.

Interview with Michael Kirby and Ralph Heimans video: 5 minutes
Interview with Michael Kirby and Ralph Heimans video: 5 minutes
Interview with Michael Kirby and Ralph Heimans video: 5 minutes
Interview with Michael Kirby and Ralph Heimans video: 5 minutes

The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG

'Radical Restraint'

Portrait story

The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG interviews the artist who painted his portrait, Ralph Heimans.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.