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Portraits of Prime Ministers

Vincent Fantauzzo (b.1977), Julia Gillard (detail), 2018, Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection.

After the end of each Australian Prime Ministers’ term in office, the Historic Memorials Collection (HMC) committee commissions prominent Australian artists to paint their portraits.

The portraits reflect how political leaders have chosen to be portrayed, and how they are viewed by the community. Early Prime Ministerial portraits tended to be intimidating, and larger than life. They often depict sitters in solemn poses, dressed in formal attire emerging from sombre surrounds. Over time, HMC artists have introduced a more personal dimension to the portraits, through the sitter’s pose, choice of backgrounds and inclusion of objects with personal associations.

The rapport between the artist and the sitter offers insights into the nature of the collaborative process of portraiture. Australia’s first female prime minister the Hon Julia Gillard chose to have her face framed tightly within the composition to omit her clothing, which was highly scrutinised during her term:

That was really a conscious discussion and choice. I mean one of the things that I think is frustrating for women in leadership roles […] is that there is endless commentary about what they’re wearing. And so I did, in this, want to entirely take clothes out of the equation. 

Not all portraits are generated through a commissioning process. The portrait of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam painted by his friend Clifton Pugh won the Archibald Prize in 1972 and was subsequently purchased by the Committee at the former Prime Minister’s request.

Currently on display.


Public Exhibition Area, Member's Hall, Level 1

Free for 1 hour, then parking rates apply

More information

Call Visitor Services on 02 6277 5399 or email visitorservices@aph.gov.au

Australian Parliament House: Portraits of Australian Prime Ministers [pdf]

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