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Sir George Coles
, c. 1935

by W B McInnes

oil on canvas (frame: 115.5 cm x 98 cm, support: 101.0 cm x 83.0 cm)

Sir George Coles CBE (1885–1977) was the founder of the retail concern GJ Coles and Coy. The Coles retail dynasty began when the first George Coles arrived in Victoria in the 1850s and established a butchery. His son, George, bought it and went on to open a number of country stores. In turn, his son – the George Coles in this portrait – bought and sold various businesses from his father before opening his first store in 1914. After World War 1 he opened his first ‘nothing over 2/6-’ store in Collingwood. Over the course of the twentieth century, as the firm went on to acquire many other retail chains, George Coles and four of his brothers worked up through the company to become directors. A substantial personal philanthropist, Coles was at various times a President of the Rotary Club and Warden of St John’s Anglican Church, Toorak; he was for 14 years Foundation President of the Institute of Public Affairs and for 22 years a Director of the National Australasia Bank. GJ Coles and Coy merged with the Myer company in late 1985; the Coles Group was acquired by Wesfarmers in 2007.

William Beckwith (Bill) McInnes (1889–1939) trained at the National Gallery of Victoria School and later undertook study tours of Europe and the UK. He taught drawing at the NGV School from 1917 to 1934 and was its head from 1934 to 1939, during which he briefly acted as director of the NGV. Beginning in 1921, McInnes won five of the first six Archibald Prizes, writing in defence of his conservative work that ‘in Australia we have not been bitten by Cubism or Futurism or other isms … and I am glad of it.’ He was to win the prize twice more, in 1930 and 1936.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Coles Myer Ltd 2002
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2002.48