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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.

Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959

William Dobell

oil on masonite (frame: 102.3 cm x 93.5 cm, support: 87.0 cm x 73.0 cm)

Edward MacMahon CBE (1904-1987), surgeon, studied medicine at the University of Sydney and completed his residency at the Sydney Hospital before leaving for England. Having obtained a fellowship with the Royal College of Surgeons, he worked at the Woolwich War Memorial Hospital, learning from the eminent surgeon Lawrence Abel. In 1933 he returned to Sydney to take up an appointment at St Vincent’s Hospital. Over his career he was also senior honorary consultant general surgeon at Lewisham and the Mater Misericordiae hospital on the North Shore, where he frequently operated on the poor on Friday nights and was much-loved by the resident Sisters of Mercy. MacMahon had a special interest in operating on cancers, one of his friends recalling that ‘he had a special ability to keep out of trouble surgically, with an uncanny sense of how far matters could be taken safely in a given case.’ He was made a CBE for his services to medicine in 1965.

An avid collector, MacMahon came to know William Dobell after accepting one of his paintings as payment from an impecunious patient. In 1957 Dobell was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and in 1958 MacMahon performed two difficult operations on him. The men spent a lot of time together during Dobell’s convalescence in St Vincent’s, during which period Dobell made a start on MacMahon’s portrait, for which Dobell won his third Archibald Prize, in 1959. ‘Dr MacMahon is an enormous person. I owe everything to him’, said the artist, who was a regular in the doctor’s family circle for the rest of his life.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the MacMahon family in affectionate memory of Edward MacMahon and William Dobell 2015
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2015.111

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

William Dobell (age 60 in 1959)

Dr Edward MacMahon (age 55 in 1959)

Subject professions

Health and medicine

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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.

Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959 by William Dobell
Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959 by William Dobell
Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959 by William Dobell
Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959 by William Dobell

Bill and Ted's excellent portrait.

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2016

Sarah Engledow on Messrs Dobell and MacMahon and the art of friendship.

Sir Charles Lloyd Jones, 1951 William Dobell
Sir Charles Lloyd Jones, 1951 William Dobell
Sir Charles Lloyd Jones, 1951 William Dobell
Sir Charles Lloyd Jones, 1951 William Dobell

Home and away

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2009

Sir William Dobell painted the portraits of Sir Charles Lloyd Jones and Sir Hudson Fysh, who did much to promote the image of Australia in this country and abroad.

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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.