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The Federal Leader Edmund Barton
, c.1900

by Nelson Illingworth

cast plaster, painted (including base: 32.8 cm x 21.8 cm depth 13.3 cm)

Under the headline ‘Mr Barton in Clay’, Sydney’s Evening News reported at the beginning of October 1898 ‘Mr Nelson Illingworth, the well-known sculptor, has just completed a half-life-sized bust in clay of Mr Edmund Barton MLA. The model was on private view at Mr Tom Roberts’s studio, in Vickery’s Chambers, yesterday afternoon. It is an excellent likeness of the federal leader, not only in facial expression, but in the general contour of the head, and the author proposes having a limited number of copies cast into bronzed terracotta for those of Mr Barton’s admirers who would care to possess so very striking a presentment of him.’ The Sydney Morning Herald reported that ‘The heavy cast of the face has been lightened, as in life, by the animation of the expression’ and that Illingworth not only proposed to issue 250 replicas of the little work, but start on a life-size reproduction ‘almost at once.’

The Barton sculpture was purchased from a venerable Sydney dealer in prints, photographs and ephemera. Often, dealers alert the National Portrait Gallery’s curators when portraits come onto the market. Major donors to the Gallery, the Liangis family, donated funds to enable this purchase, amongst many others.

Edmund Barton GCMG PC KC was Australia’s first prime minister, from January 1901 to September 1903. He spent the following sixteen years as a judge on the High Court.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by the Liangis family 2012
Accession number: 2012.112