The Artists

Sir William Dargie


Born 1912

oil on canvas
Collection: Historic Memorials Collection, Canberra
Reproduced by courtesy of the artist and the
Parliament House Art Collection, The Department of Parliamentary Services, Canberra ACT

This work was the first of three commissioned portraits of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II painted by William Dargie. The second commissioned portrait was produced for the Government of New Zealand, while the third was commissioned in 1975 for the Portrait Gallery of Sir Leon and Lady Trout.

In one interview, Dargie remembered painting this work in Buckingham Palace in (December) 1954:
'Four sittings which turned out to be seven - of two hours each.
I was absolutely terrified at first.
But she is a marvellous woman and we got quite chatty…
but of course, I can't tell you what we talked about.'

In another interview, Dargie recalled:
'She was very amusing, she was marvellous.
At the time we were all for the Queen.
I guess I was a bit apprehensive at first, but she soon put me at my ease.
She made it easy for me.
That straight back of hers never slumped once.'

And again in another interview, when Dargie was asked to recall his memories of painting the Queen, he replied:
'She was a very good subject.
We talked on a range of subjects, but we didn't touch on anything controversial.
And she had a difficult mouth to paint - that I remember.'

Recently Dargie commented, 'From what I heard a bit later, she seemed quite pleased with the result.'

On 16 January 1955 in the New York Herald Tribune appeared a small article, titled 'For Australia'. With this article was a reproduction of Dargie's portrait of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, and the article read, 'This portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is to be hung in Australia's Parliament House in Canberra. It was recently painted by William A. Dargie, of Melbourne, Australia and commissioned by the late James P. Beveridge, Melbourne industrialist.'

James Beveridge had also been a fellow member with Dargie of the Melbourne Savage Club. The work when completed was presented to the Commonwealth Government, and today the portrait is on permanent display in Parliament House, Canberra.

The 'Wattle Painting', as some critics referred to it, was well received by the public and the Government, and became the official portrait for Australia of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II.

The reason for the 'wattle' tag was quite obvious, with the gown described as, 'Harnett crinoline of mimosa gold tulle, its skirt sparkling with wattle motifs in gold paillettes.' The tiara that the Queen wore had been a present from her grandmother, Queen Mary, when she died, and the matching necklace of diamond flowers and leaves was part of a wedding present from Nizam of Hyderabad.

The Queen, who had arrived in Sydney on 3 February 1954, had worn this 'wattle' gown to her first evening engagement in Sydney, and again to her last evening function in Perth.

Within a very short time of Dargie completing the portrait, colour prints of the work were made available and began to appear in Federal, State and Local Government Departments, and many schools, hospitals, libraries, church halls and RSL clubrooms throughout Australia. Coloured prints are still advertised, as available today, through The Monarchist League in Australia.

For many 'new arrivals' to Australia, this work was their first encounter with an artwork by an Australian artist, as the work was reproduced on their Australian naturalization papers, and a print of the work was generally present in the local Town Hall where their naturalization ceremony usually took place.

In 1976, Dargie designed a commemorative plate '9 inches in diameter' portraying 'the Queen in her 50th year and the Queen Mother in her 75th' for the Archive College of Australia.

On 8 April 1994, a 45 cent stamp of 'The Queen' was issued by Australia Post to commemorate the Queen's birthday. The stamp featured the portrait of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II which had been painted by William Dargie 'to commemorate the Queen's first visit to Australia in 1954.'

As well as H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, Dargie has painted a number of portraits of other members of the Royal Family. These include the portrait of H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh painted in 1956, and the portraits of H.R.H. The Duke of Gloucester, Princess Alexandra and her mother, and also the Princess Royal.

Andrew Mackenzie

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Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

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