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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Leading ladies

Presence and inspiration

The Amazing Face, lesson 12

Today we will LOOK at the portraits of Betty Churcher by Adam Knott and Quentin Bryce by Michael Zavros; THINK about presence and inspiration in portraiture; WATCH video interviews with Betty Churcher and Quentin Bryce; READ an article by Susi Muddiman; DO a couple of activities and finish with a quiz.

There are hundreds of exceptional leaders represented in the National Portrait Gallery Collection. Over many centuries, portraiture has traditionally reflected and celebrated leadership. The dominant 19th and 20th century stereotype of such a portrait is that of a restrained and besuited gentleman – often leaning on a desk holding a pen. The two 21st century portraits we are looking at today recognise two women in leadership roles: Betty Churcher and Quentin Bryce.

Quentin Bryce
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These portraits allow us to explore a different mode of reflecting leadership qualities, and how portraits conveying such presence can inspire us. Today we are thinking about how artists convey intangible traits like wisdom, strength of character, compassion, command, authenticity, self-possession and success.

Betty Churcher
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Watch

Betty Churcher was the Director of the National Gallery of Australia for seven years from 1990. She says: ‘The journey to being a director is a strange set of – I was going to say accidents, but – chances. It's always difficult, when you're the first of anything.’

'Blockbuster Betty'
Video: 3 minutes

Quentin Bryce AD CVO wanted artist and fellow Queenslander Michael Zavros to paint her portrait. Here’s how they went:

Quentin Bryce
Video: 4 minutes 47 seconds

Read

I’ll begin with an unabashed confession: I am what can only be labelled a ‘groupie’ of both the subject of this stunning portrait, and its creator.

Read the Portrait article In Bloom by Susi Muddiman.

Solo Activity

Compare and contrast portraits to discover more.

  1. View the portraits of Quentin Bryce and Betty Churcher so that you can look at them closely.
  2. What do you notice that is similar? What do you notice that is different? Take note of your personal preferences as you are observing the differences. 
  3. What impact do these various factors have on the final portrait?
  4. What can we learn about the representation of women in leadership by looking at these portraits?

Connected activity

This informal portrait of Betty Churcher is joyfully uninhibited. See how many smiles you can spot in the Portrait Gallery Collection.

  1. Phone a friend while online and both open this link to all the portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection.
  2. This is a competition: the first person to find the first ten smiling portraits is the winner. Watch out – at the end you must compare notes and both agree that your selected sitters are, in fact, smiling! 

Quiz

What do the protea flowers refer to in the portrait of Quentin Bryce by Michael Zavros?

Who does Quentin Bryce credit for her passion for education?

Which is a real newspaper headline from 1990, when Betty Churcher was appointed as the Director of the National Gallery of Australia?

Next lesson

13. Spirit level: Movement, soul, self

Related information

Quentin Bryce
Quentin Bryce
Quentin Bryce
Quentin Bryce

In bloom

Magazine article by Susi Muddiman, 2017

Susi Muddiman delights in Michael Zavros’ stunning portrait of the honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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