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Dame Elizabeth Couchman
, n.d.

by Aileen Dent

oil on canvas (frame: 91.5 cm x 79.5 cm, support: 76.0 cm x 64.0 cm)

Dame Elizabeth Couchman (1876–1982) grew up in a family of modest means in Geelong, where she worked as a teacher and joined the Australian Women’s National League (AWNL) in 1910. She was appointed AWNL president in 1927 and in 1932 was the first woman appointed to the Australian Broadcasting Commission board. Having brought the AWNL into the United Australia Party fold, Couchman stood (unsuccessfully) as the UAP candidate for Melbourne in the 1943 Federal election. The following year she instigated the AWNL’s merge with the new Liberal Party and in return secured equal representation for women at all levels of the party’s Victorian division. She was metropolitan vice-president of the Victorian Liberal Party for six years and served on party’s state council into her eighties (she died at 106). Appointed OBE in 1941, she was made DBE in 1960. Sir Robert Menzies is said to have stated that Couchman ‘would have been the best cabinet minister I could have wished for.’

Aileen Dent studied at the National Gallery School in Melbourne and during the 1920s gained a reputation as a portrait painter, while frequently showing flower pieces and landscapes. She was an Archibald Prize finalist every year without fail from 1921 until 1956, her portraits judged by one reviewer in 1945 to be ‘pleasing pictures … usually striking in their likeness.’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Susan Webster, step-granddaughter 2015
Accession number: 2015.116