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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 Sydney Hospital. After working at the Woolwich War Memorial Hospital in London, he returned to Sydney to take up an appointment at St Vincent's Hospital in 1933. Over his career he was also senior honorary consultant general surgeon at Lewisham and the Mater Misericordiae hospital on the North Shore, where he often performed operations for disadvantaged patients on Friday nights and was much-loved by the resident Sisters of Mercy.

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 while Dobell recovered at St. Vincent's, during which period Dobell started to paint MacMahon's portrait. It won Dobell 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.

Gift of the MacMahon family in affectionate memory of Edward MacMahon and William Dobell 2015. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.
© William Dobell/Copyright Agency, 2021

Artist and subject

William Dobell (age 60 in 1959)

Dr Edward MacMahon (age 55 in 1959)

Subject professions

Health and medicine

Donated by

Edwina O'Donnell (1 portrait)

Elizabeth Meyer (1 portrait)

Anne Finnerty (1 portrait)

Tom MacMahon (1 portrait)

Mary MacMahon (1 portrait)

William MacMahon (1 portrait)

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.

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.

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.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency