Press Centre

Launch of Sir William Dargie Collection on
In the Artist's Footsteps website
Wednesday 27 February 2002
Speaking notes for Senator the Hon Rod Kemp

Sir William Dargie; Roger and Faye Dargie; Shirley Baynes-Smith; Andrew Mackenzie; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.

Sir William Dargie once commented ruefully that artists in Australia tended to be easily 'pigeon-holed'. One became known as a painter of landscapes, or as a student of the human form, or a sketcher of still life arrangements, or the creator of commissioned portraits.

Sir William is known by Australians primarily as a painter of portraits.

Still, there is more to Sir William Dargie than portraits.

In fact, in a career spanning seven decades he painted relatively few portraits.

He himself regards still life as the art form at which he most excels. And he has produced countless smaller works, often domestic interiors, that grace the walls of galleries, private homes and corporate offices the world over.

Just where those walls might be located is something of a mystery, much to the dismay of art historians and anyone wishing to mount a retrospective of this important Australian artist's work.

Sir William has resolutely refused to keep records during his career.

He maintains that works of art are akin to the paper boats one floats down a stream. 'It is nice to make them, put them down and see them twirl away and they disappear around the corner of the creek,' he says. 'You don't know whether they sink or they go on or somebody picks them up further on'.

It is a marvelous attitude towards art and a wonderfully healthy attitude towards life and the creative impulse.

I understand that Sir William was digging a trench in Tobruk when he learnt he had won the Archibald Prize for 1941, with his portrait of Sir James Elder, KBE. Sir William was 29 at the time that award was made.

During the next several years Sir William would win the Archibald another seven times. It is a record that has not yet been broken.

He won:
· in 1942, for a portrait of Corporal Jim Gordon, VC;
· in 1945 with his portrait of Lieutenant-General Sir Edmund Herring;
· in 1946 for his painting of L.C. Robson, Headmaster of North Sydney Grammar School;
· in 1947, with a portrait of Sir Marcus Clark, KBE;
· in 1950 with his portrait of Sir Leslie McConnan;
· in 1952 with his rendition of Mr Essington Lewis C.H. and most recently-I won't say finally, because you never know when the urge to make it nine might strike-in 1956 with his portrait of Albert Namatjira.

In addition to his talent as a practising artist, Sir William has always displayed a flair for administration and a gracious willingness to play a part in ensuring that the 'business' side of the art world runs smoothly.

Between 1969 and 1973 he was Chairman of the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board. He was a member of the Interim Council of the National Gallery in the late '60s and early '70s. He headed the National Gallery of Victoria Art School from 1946 to 1953. Among his students were John Brack and Clifton Pugh.

During World War II he was appointed official war artist, working in the Middle East, New Guinea, India and Burma. Many of the hundreds of paintings and sketches produced in that capacity are housed in the Australian War Memorial, in Canberra.

So much for pigeon holes.

Sir William Dargie is a truly remarkable Australian whose contribution to this nation's cultural life has been considerable on many levels.

How fitting that he should be chosen as the latest featured artist on the educational website In the Artist's Footsteps. Sir William joins more than a dozen major Australian artists whose work and lives are featured on this excellent site.

In the Artist's Footsteps is an ambitious project designed to digitally archive the collected works of major figures in the Australian art world, and make those works, and comprehensive information about the artists available to all Australians.

Since the site was launched by Pty Ltd in late 2000 it has become a valuable resource for students and teachers, schools and universities, art professionals and art lovers.

The Commonwealth Government has been happy to support the endeavour with funding from the Federal Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs and ATSIC.

It is heartening to see corporate Australia come to the party too, with support flowing from Telstra Countrywide, Aspect Computing and BP.

It would like to congratulate everyone who has had a hand in putting together the Sir William Dargie Collection-in particular the Managing Director of medialaunch, Ron Smith, Curator Andrew Mackenzie and Managing Editor Shirley Baynes-Smith.

This site will ensure that Sir William's work is made familiar to successive generations of art lovers across the nation and the world. It will stand as a lasting archive of Sir William's life's work.

It gives me great pleasure to launch the Sir William Dargie Collection.


Left: Arthur Streeton - Above Us The Great Grave Sky, 1890
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

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