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William Pidgeon The Right Hon RG Menzies, CH, KC, MP

oil on canvas

91.5 x 71 cm

Image of original work courtesy Peter Pidgeon

In 1950, when artist William Pidgeon entered his portrait of Robert Gordon Menzies in the Archibald Prize, the politician was serving his second period as Australian prime minister. In all, Menzies would lead the country from 1939 to 1941 and from 1949 to 1966.

Pidgeon was never really satisfied with the Archibald painting and altered the portrait several times over the years, including, at one stage, painting a nude on Menzies’ lap. Eventually, the work was cut down to make two separate paintings: one of Menzies’ head and one of the nude. The portrait head is now in the National Library of Australia. The only colour image of the portrait in its original state is from an article in the February 1951 edition of AM: The Australian Monthly magazine.

Pidgeon also created a second version of the original portrait, which he altered too over a period of 20 years. Eventually, he signed and dated that painting in 1969.