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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Michael Leunig, 1995 (printed 2013)

Helga Leunig

inkjet print on paper (sheet: 42.0 cm x 29.7 cm, image: 36.0 cm x 23.5 cm)

Michael Leunig (b. 1945), cartoonist and popular philosopher, raised in Footscray, Melbourne, studied briefly at university before dropping out to follow the career path of his father, who worked as a slaughterman. At the same time, he began drawing cartoons, and in the mid-1960s his work began to appear in such varied publications as Woman’s Day and London’s Oz magazine. He served as resident cartoonist for the afternoon paper Newsday before gaining wider recognition in the 1970s with his work for the Nation Review. In his earliest work Leunig endeavoured to conduct himself as a classic political cartoonist; but in 1969, frustrated by the genre’s conventions, he submitted a cartoon of a man wearing a teapot on his head riding into a sunset on a large duck. It was published, and Leunig would later come to see it as a symbolic depiction of his own escape from the strictures of political cartooning. His subsequent work – in which the duck has frequently reappeared, along with such characters as gentle Vasco Pyjama and humble Mr Curly – has been adapted for television, theatre and radio, and has been collected in many books, beginning with The Penguin Leunig (1974). Describing his own approach as ‘regressive, humorous, messy, mystical, primal and vaudevillian’, over decades he has persisted in his effort to convey ideas of an innocent and sacred personal world, and the fragile relationships and ecosystems of the world we share. He is a regular contributor to the Melbourne Age – in which his cartoons generally appear three to four times a week – and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Helga Leunig, née Salwe, was working as a professional photographer at the Age in the late 1980s when she met Michael Leunig. She took this photograph of her husband in their then home in Hampton, Victoria.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Helga Leunig 2013

Accession number: 2013.75

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Helga Leunig

Michael Leunig (age 50 in 1995)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Donated by

Helga Leunig (4 portraits)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Michael Leunig video: 6 minutes 27 seconds
Michael Leunig video: 6 minutes 27 seconds
Michael Leunig video: 6 minutes 27 seconds
Michael Leunig video: 6 minutes 27 seconds

Michael Leunig

'Drawing the human spirit'

Portrait story
Philosopher, cartoonist and national treasure, Michael Leunig discusses his art.
 
Michael Leunig, 2004 Jacqueline Mitelman
Michael Leunig, 2004 Jacqueline Mitelman
Michael Leunig, 2004 Jacqueline Mitelman
Michael Leunig, 2004 Jacqueline Mitelman

The Philosophy of Teapots and Ducks

Magazine article by Gillian Raymond, 2005

Cartoonist Michael Leunig's insights into the human condition and current affairs have become famous Australia-wide.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

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Explore portraiture and come face to face with Australian identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.