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Study for portrait of Les Murray
, 1995

by David Naseby

charcoal on paper

Leslie Allan (Les) Murray AO (1938-2019) was one of the great poets writing in English of his generation. An observer of the natural world and (like Wordsworth) of the 'egotistical sublime', he won many literary awards, including the prestigious Petrarch Prize in Germany, the TS Eliot Award in Britain, and the Queen's Medal for Poetry. He published some thirty books, dedicated to 'the glory of God' and linked by their engagement with the values of what he called the 'real Australia' - the rural heartland and the bush. In 1998 the Federal Government commissioned Murray to write a new preamble to the Constitution, but the government rejected much of the draft and he later dissociated himself from the project.

David Naseby worked for a time in advertising, and one of his first portrait commissions was of Belinda Green for John Singleton. He was a finalist in the Archibald Prizes of 1995, 1998 and 1999 for his portraits of Les Murray (twice) and Bob Ellis. Segments of the documentary film Bastards From the Bush, featuring Murray and Ellis, were filmed in Naseby's studio while he painted the second portrait of Murray. To make this portrait David Naseby and his wife travelled to Murray's home property in Bunyah and stayed there for the weekend. The artist was struck by Murray's air of strange simplicity. He has shown the poet indulging in his habit of sucking on a finger, and with his coffee cup tilting - 'like my life', Murray observed.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of David Naseby 2001
Accession number: 2001.16