Over the past century Sir William’s name has become synonymous with Australia’s art heritage. His achievements and prestigious reputation saw him travel the world and the recognition he gained overseas and his appointments to many advisory committees for the Commonwealth Government gave him the opportunity to become a veritable torchbearer for Australia and its visual arts culture.
Sir William Dargie was born in Footscray, Melbourne in 1912. He was Australia’s most famous portrait painter and specialised in portrait and landscape painting. He studied art at the Melbourne Technical School, before beginning independent study and travel in Europe.
Dargie became Australia’s official war artist during the Second World War. Between 1946 and 1953, he was head of the National Gallery Art School, Melbourne, and a member for the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board.
In 1954 Dargie travelled to London, where he painted HM Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. Dargie then spent several months travelling to art centres in Europe to paint with a group of expatriate Australian artists. He returned to England in 1956 to paint a portrait of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
Dargie was an exhibiting member with the Royal Art Society of New South Wales, the Victorian Artists Society and the Australian Academy of Art. He also exhibited in England, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society of Artists in London.
He has received many awards over the years acknowledging his prowess as a painter. He won the Archibald prize for portraiture a record breaking eight times and was commissioned to paint portraits of the Royal family including, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, and H.R.H. Prince Phillip. His portrait of Queen Elizabeth, painted in 1954, hangs in Parliament House in Canberra.
His outstanding service to art was recognised with an OBE in 1959, a CBE in 1969 and a knighthood in 1970. His work is represented in National Gallery collections throughout Australia.
Dargie has an important association with New Zealand, as he has been invited to judge the Kelliher Art Award on four occasions, beginning in 1959.