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Obsequious NPG and the Mary portrait

By I-filed - 20 November 2011 21

The NPG has inexplicably and obsequiously placed the huge portrait of former Australian Crown Princess Mary of Denmark in the most prominent place in the whole gallery – front on as you walk in. Relegated to the princess’s bum level on a wall behind, there is a small photograph of Queen Elizabeth.

Is the Portrait Gallery making some sort of weird republican statement? Or are they just rude? The reception Australia gave QEII a couple of weeks ago would indicate that Australians think highly of the Queen and would probably prefer a little respect was shown to this rather amazing woman.

It was fine for an Australian citizen, Mrs Mary Isabel Murphy, to commission and donate a portrait of Crown Princess Mary to the National Portrait Gallery, however, the gallery’s own policy is to acquire:
” … representations of individuals who have influenced or contributed to the shaping of Australia as a nation and a society.”
It’s an odd interpretation of the policy that a citizen who meets and marries a foreign prince and relinquishes their Australian citizenship is helping shape our society. The portrait is disproportionately large compared to the status of the sitter and that reflects poor conversations when it was commissioned. A more modest portrait would have been more suitable.

Princess Mary is currently on a visit to Australia that is one week’s “trade delegation on topics of sustainability” and of course is here to promote Danish trade. That’s followed by three weeks’ private holiday. It turns out that one of her official “duties” is rather bizarrely for the princess to go to the gallery and view this long-unveiled portrait of herself. (Though I think the NPG may have flown it to Denmark for her to approve, years ago, so she has already seen it.)

The cultural institutions around the Parliamentary Triangle are crying poor. Rather than the NPG pay the hundreds of dollars in handling costs to move the portrait, you’d think the “commonsense Australian” princess would be happy to walk 10 metres to the space where the NPG’s former director had it hung – a little out of the way and not prominent over portraits of eminent Australians.

What’s Your opinion?


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21 Responses to
Obsequious NPG and the Mary portrait
johnboy 4:03 pm 21 Nov 11

housebound said :

Thumper said :

How can a citizen of another country have Australian nationality?
I have. It’s really not that uncommon I believe.

Dual nationality gives you an option other than the Australian embassy if you get into trouble overseas.

If in trouble overseas the absolute worst thing you can do is get the embassy involved.

housebound 4:01 pm 21 Nov 11

Thumper said :

How can a citizen of another country have Australian nationality?
I have. It’s really not that uncommon I believe.

Dual nationality gives you an option other than the Australian embassy if you get into trouble overseas.

Thumper 3:52 pm 21 Nov 11

How can a citizen of another country have Australian nationality?

I have. It’s really not that uncommon I believe.

whitelaughter 3:49 pm 21 Nov 11

trevar said :

breda said :

How can a citizen of another country have Australian nationality?

You seem to think the words ‘citizenship’ and ‘nationality’ mean the same thing, but they don’t.

True – but it’s all a mess, and needs to be tidied up. The most serious immediate problem is Greek Australian lads heading to Greece for a holiday and being called up for national service – because Greece insists that they’re still Greek!
The ultimate nightmare for dual citizens is when their nations go to war – frex the trial of Lord Haw Haw at the end of WWII hinged on whether he was a British or German citizen.
(Wasn’t Princess Mary a dual UK/Aus citizen before marrying, btw?)
Threshing out some decent rules/guidelines would give the UN something useful to do, instead of throwing hate speeches at each other.

CapitalK 3:35 pm 21 Nov 11

deye said :

It’s a Gallery, they move things around all the time, especially for current events. If she is to visit for it’s official unveiling it is possible that the location they have moved it to was the most suitable for holding that type of event.

Last time we visited (about 2 weeks ago) it was in an area that was far too small to accommodate entourage, media, gallery staff, etc – so it makes perfect sense to move the portrait. Which BTW I think is lovely and my 5yo loves as she is an Australian princess. – Something she learnt from the fantastic staff at the NPG who go out of their way to make everyone feel welcome and to foster an interest in art.

trevar 2:43 pm 21 Nov 11

breda said :

How can a citizen of another country have Australian nationality?

You seem to think the words ‘citizenship’ and ‘nationality’ mean the same thing, but they don’t. Citizenship is a legal condition. It can be documented and measured arbitrarily, and it’s absolute. Nationality, though, is more fluid. It is relative to birthplace, cultural influences, parentage and other immeasurable variables, and it doesn’t change the way citizenship does. Most people are citizens of the country most closely associated with their nationality, but that doesn’t apply to everyone.

johnboy 10:50 am 21 Nov 11

breda said :

#2

How can a citizen of another country have Australian nationality?

Agree that it is difficult to see what she has done in ‘influencing or contributing to the shaping of Australia as a nation and a society’. At least the Queen has a legitimate claim on that basis, if only by default.

Dual citizenship is hardly uncommon.

breda 10:44 am 21 Nov 11

#2

How can a citizen of another country have Australian nationality?

Agree that it is difficult to see what she has done in ‘influencing or contributing to the shaping of Australia as a nation and a society’. At least the Queen has a legitimate claim on that basis, if only by default.

I-filed 7:03 pm 20 Nov 11

deye said :

It’s a Gallery, they move things around all the time, especially for current events. If she is to visit for it’s official unveiling it is possible that the location they have moved it to was the most suitable for holding that type of event.

Sorry, apostrophe police moment: “Its official unveiling” : )

deye 6:13 pm 20 Nov 11

It’s a Gallery, they move things around all the time, especially for current events. If she is to visit for it’s official unveiling it is possible that the location they have moved it to was the most suitable for holding that type of event.

drfelonious 5:37 pm 20 Nov 11

+1 caf Republicans are not generally known to be big fans of royalty – regardless of the flavour.

I agree however that it is a complete joke that the NPG has allocated pride of place to a woman who happened to marry well but has otherwise no basis for being honoured above hundreds of thousands of others who have done valuable real work to advance this country.

A real republican NPG would not hang portraits of anybody who happens to hail from a family that lucked out in some ancient bloody machiavellian European coup 300, 400 or 500 years ago. It is likely worshipping a throw of the dice because that’s what put the ancestors where they were.

I wonder how many monarchists love a punt?

caf 3:53 pm 20 Nov 11

As an avowed republican I can tell you that the idea that the republican movement is in any way advanced by supposedly privileging one royal over another in some imagined slight based on the positions of portraits on the wall is absurd.

poetix 3:13 pm 20 Nov 11

She has certainly appeared on the front covers of zillions of asinine women’s magazines here in Australia, so you could certainly argue that she has influenced Australian society.

You could, of course, also argue that Oprah has influenced Australian society in the same way. So where do we draw the line in terms of who is hung in the Portrait Gallery? If a person was born here, or has lived here, and has become well-known by whatever means, that is surely sufficient for her portrait to be hung.

trevar 1:52 pm 20 Nov 11

I can find no reference to the building having been structured or the portraits positioned in a pattern that signifies the prominence of the subject or the ranking of their contributions to Australian society. So although hanging a portrait in such a prominent position may indicate a high degree of honour, it does not indicate the ranking of the subject in relation to other subjects. You’ve made that bit up yourself.

The gallery is honouring a fine woman whose nationality remains Australian regardless of her citizenship. The gallery commissioned it, and the gallery has selected a position for it, so whether Mary would choose the position is of no consequence unless she actively objects to it (and even then, it’s not her choice!).

For this portrait in particular, though, it’s not merely the subject that’s significant. This artist’s sketch for the portrait, along with Jorn Utzon’s Opera House in the background, illustrate beautifully the cosmopolitan nature of Australian society. It also wisely avoids the slightly embarrassing irony of a Tasmanian marrying into the most inbred family in Europe (isn’t her husband the 3rd cousin once removed of the Duke of Cambridge?)…

I suspect your reading of Mary’s portrait is a little shallow. A “more modest portrait” wouldn’t bring these broader themes to bear; it would just be a picture of an Aussie expat who’s done pretty well for herself. Mary may be humble enough to be pleased with this, but there’s more to Mary than just her achievements; it’s the context of her achievements that matter. I think this story deserves the prominence it is enjoying.

I-filed 12:11 pm 20 Nov 11

Footnote: Princess Mary’s “Lazarus” portrait was indeed taken all the way to Copenhagen at taxpayer’s expense by the National Portrait Gallery then director Andrew Sayers in early 2006.
Given the political climate on Green issues, perhaps the explanation for this exercise is that Australia is scrabbling around for non-green&carbon-related “duties” for the princess … and hang any PR risk to the princess of looking like something of a narcissist checking out your portrait again in front of the press!

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