Collection: National Portrait Gallery of Australia
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 166.5 h x 171.5 w
Leslie Allan (Les) Murray AO (b. 1938) has been described as one of the greatest living poets writing in English. A poet of the natural world and (like Wordsworth) of the ‘egotistical sublime’, he has won many literary awards, including the prestigious Petrarch Prize in Germany, the TS Eliot Award in Britain, and the Queen’s Medal for Poetry.
He has published some thirty books, dedicated to ‘the glory of God’ and linked by their engagement with the values of what he calls the ‘real Australia’ – the rural heartland and the bush.
In 1998 the Federal Government commissioned Murray to write a new preamble to the Constitution, but the government rejected much of the draft and he later dissociated himself from the project.
The first time I saw Les was in a television interview in 1994. I knew instantly he would be a beautiful subject for a portrait, and I was thrilled when he agreed to sit for a portrait for the Archibald Prize.
I spent the weekend with him on his family farm near in Bunyah. This was an amazing experience. We went into his office and pulled out my drawing pad while his family gathered around to watch. Because of his reputation as a poet I was quite nervous and he picked this up. So he sent his family away and then distracted me with an interesting story about Napoleon.
As a subject I found Les very intriguing. Along with his huge intelligence he had an air of strange simplicity. I have shown this apparent contradiction by painting his habit of sucking on a finger, and showing his coffee cup tilting on the floor – ‘like my life’, Murray said to me when he first saw the portrait.