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William Dobell part two

In their own words

Recorded 1961

William Dobell part two
Audio: 2 minutes

I’ve been asked to talk about my recent portrait of Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia.

I was approached by a magazine from America to do this particular job for a special issue that is coming out within a week or two, and for that purpose I had to travel to Canberra and interview the Prime Minister in the offices of Parliament House. And there I made my studies. They consisted of small watercolour paintings, and I think altogether I had about 40 minutes with the Prime Minister for this purpose.

I always paint, as I think, a straight portrait and I go for the character of the person and, in this case, I think there was very strong character and I’d be very foolish to play around and do silly things with an international figure of that type. And I think I got a fairly good job done in the time allowed me.

Oh well, we’ll see the results when they come out.

Usually I like to get to know a person well before I do a portrait, sometimes at least a week, or have a few drinks with them or dine with them, to get them relaxed and to pick out their salient mannerisms. In the case of Mr Menzies, I have only met him once or twice over a period of about 15 years, socially, so I really didn’t know him, which made the job more difficult. And in this particular case, in the surrounds of Parliament House and offices, there is a tenseness, and relaxing was really a frightening business. I couldn’t really relax, and I had to take my studies away, then try to get everything from that build-up, with what I remembered of him. As I say, I didn’t really know the man well.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of William Dobell is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Audio source

National Library of Australia, Hazel de Berg collection

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William Dobell

Related information

Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959 by William Dobell
Dr Edward MacMahon, 1959 by William Dobell
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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
Sir Charles Lloyd Jones
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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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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