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Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield DBE, 1958

Ivor Hele

oil on masonite (frame: 126.5 cm x 101.0 cm, support: 101.4 cm x 76.2 cm)

Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield DBE (1912–2005) was the first South Australian woman member of Federal Parliament. The daughter of car industry pioneer Sir Edward Holden, she was educated at Adelaide’s Woodlands Church of England Girls’ Grammar School and at a finishing school in Paris. Later, she studied psychology, music and economics part-time at Adelaide University. She married businessman Frank Buttfield in 1936. Her interest in politics was encouraged by her father, a state parliamentarian, and family friend Robert Menzies, from whom she sought advice about a political career. In 1954, she was endorsed as the Liberal Party candidate for Adelaide, unsuccessfully contesting the seat in the federal election that year. When a senate seat fell vacant in 1955, she was elected to parliament as a Liberal senator for South Australia, serving from 1955 to 1965 and again from 1968 to 1974. Though her support for women’s rights put her at odds with some of her male colleagues, she lobbied on issues such as equal pay for women and for the right of married women to work in the Public Service. Despite her staunch anti-communist views, she was the first female senator to visit the USSR, and she toured China alone in 1962. She also served on many boards and made philanthropic contributions to youth and the arts. In 1972, she was made a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Sir Ivor Hele (1912–1993) was born in South Australia and studied art at the Prince Alfred College, Adelaide and the South Australian School of Arts and, later, in Paris and Munich. He was Australia’s longest-serving official war artist, serving in North Africa, the Middle East and New Guinea during World War II and in the Korean War. His postwar paintings were occasionally shown at the Adelaide Advertiser’s open-air art exhibitions; his last solo exhibition was during the 1970 Adelaide Festival of the Arts. Although Hele painted landscapes and made thousands of erotic paintings and drawings, he was best known as a portrait painter. He was much in demand as an official portraitist and he won the Archibald Prize five times between 1951 and 1957, notably with his portrait of Sir Robert Menzies in 1954 and a self portrait in 1957. Dame Nancy Buttfield commissioned this portrait from Hele in 1958. It was donated to the National Portrait Gallery in 2003.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield DBE 2003
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2003.122

Currently on display: Gallery Five (John Schaeffer Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Ivor Hele (age 46 in 1958)

Dame Nancy Buttfield DBE (age 46 in 1958)

Subject professions

Government and leadership

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