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George Judah Cohen
, 1925

by George Lambert

oil on canvas (frame: 147.0 cm x 122.5 cm, support: 125.5 cm x 101.5 cm)

George Judah Cohen (1842–1937), banker, grew up in Sydney and attended university in London before taking over the Maitland office of his father’s wholesale firm, David Cohen and Co., when he was just twenty-three. Returning to Sydney with a reputation as a financial expert, he joined the board of the Commercial Banking Company in 1885. After steering the company through the financial crises of the 1890s, he became its chairman of directors in 1901. He held this position for thirty-two years, during the last of which the bank weathered the Depression. From the late 1880s to the early 1930s, Cohen was also chairman of many other companies, including Australian Gas Light, United Insurance, Tooth and Co. and the Sydney Exchange. He and his wife Rebecca Levy amassed a significant collection of antiques and European paintings in their home, Engadine, in Onslow Avenue, Potts Point. He was a liberal, yet low-key, supporter of various charities, president of the Board of Management of the Great Synagogue for some fifteen years, and a lifelong advocate for the Jewish community.

George Lambert (1873-1930) painted George Judah Cohen on commission from the Commercial Banking Company, and entered the portrait in the Archibald Prize of 1925. Although it did not win, many commentators, notably Sydney Ure Smith (making a public statement on behalf of the Society of Artists) thought it ‘immeasurably the best’ entry and preferred it to the winner, John Longstaff’s portrait of a visiting Russian actor, Maurice Moscovich. Lambert won the Archibald Prize two years later with his portrait of Mrs Annie Murdoch.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the National Australia Bank 2002
Accession number: 2002.2