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Museum acquires historic portrait of the Queen

8 MAY 2009

The National Museum of Australia has acquired one of the most recognisable and treasured examples of 20th century Australian art, a portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Second by Victorian artist, Sir William Dargie.

The 'Wattle Painting', as it became known, was one of three portraits of the young Queen in a Norman Hartnell mimosa gold tulle dress adorned with sparkling gold wattle motifs painted from sittings at Buckingham Palace in November, 1954.

Dargie was concerned that his portrait of the Queen might be damaged or lost during transit back to Australia and painted a second replica copy. The Queen later expressed herself 'delighted' with the original portrait and asked Dargie to paint a third copy.

The first portrait hangs in Parliament House; the Queen's copy is one of only a few portraits of herself she has kept in her private collection. The National Museum has acquired the second portrait of Queen Elizabeth at auction at a hammer price of $120,000 plus auction house charges of $26,400.

Dargie's 'Wattle Painting' of the young Queen became one of the most recognisable examples of Australian portraiture. Colour prints became available and the work took on the status of an official portrait and was displayed in Federal, State and local government offices, countless schools, hospitals, libraries, church halls and RSL clubrooms throughout Australia.

The dress worn by the Queen in the 'Wattle Painting' is instantly recognisable to a generation of Australians as the dress worn by the Queen at her first evening engagement of the 1954 Royal Tour of Australia in Sydney and again on her last evening function in Perth before leaving Australia.

"The Royal Tour of 1954 was a cultural milestone during a period of immense social change in Australia. She was the first reigning monarch of Australia to set foot on Australian soil," said Craddock Morton, Director of the National Museum of Australia.

"The Queen's 1954 visit began a relationship with Australians which has endured and deepened, she is greatly admired by Australians. This portrait dates from the beginning of that relationship between a Queen and her people in Australia", said Mr Morton.

The National Museum is examining options for displaying the 'Wattle Painting' at the National Museum in Canberra and as part of an exhibition to travel to other parts of the nation.

For more information or interviews please contact Dennis Grant on 0409 916 481; Caroline Vero on 0438 620 710 or media@nma.gov.au