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“William Morris Hughes” by James Guthrie

"William Morris Hughes" by James Guthrie

“William Morris Hughes” by James Guthrie

“William Morris Hughes” by James Guthrie depicts the Australian politician who served as the 7th Prime Minister of Australia, from 1915 to 1923. Hughes (1862 – 1952) was a parliament member from the Australian Federation in 1901 until his death.

Known as “Billy Hughes,” he is the only person to have served for more than 50 years in the Australian Parlament. He represented six political parties during his career, leading five, outlasting four, and being expelled from three.

Hughes was born in London to Welsh parents. He emigrated to Australia at the age of 22 and became involved in the labor movement.

Hughes combined his political career with part-time legal studies and was called to the bar in 1903. He was elected deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party in 1914.

Hughes became prime minister in late 1915, and the war was the dominant issue of the time. He supported sending conscripted troops overseas, an issue that caused a split within Labor ranks.

He and his supporters formed the Nationalist Party, and he was re-elected with large majorities in the 1917 and 1919 elections. He also made a significant impression on other world leaders at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

Hughes was one of the most influential Australian politicians of the 20th century. He was a controversial figure throughout his lifetime, and his legacy continues to be debated by historians.

The Labor Party considered him a traitor, while conservatives were suspicious of him. However, he was extremely popular among the general public, particularly ex-servicemen, who affectionately nicknamed him “the little digger.”

He continued to play an active role in Parliament until he died in 1952. Guthrie made this vibrant oil sketch to prepare his great commission “Statesmen of the Great War.”

James Guthrie

Sir James Guthrie (1859 – 1930) was a Scottish painter, best known in his own lifetime for his portraiture, although today more generally regarded as a painter of Scottish Realism.

In 1919, Guthrie was commissioned by a South African financier to paint a group portrait of 17 politicians and statesmen of Britain and its allies who held office during the First World War.

The painting, “Statesmen of World War I,” was completed in 1930, shortly before Guthrie’s death. The painting was donated to the National Portrait Gallery, London. Guthrie’s 17 preparatory oil studies were also donated to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

"David Lloyd George" by James Guthrie

“Statesmen of World War I” by James Guthrie

“Statesmen of World War I” by James Guthrie was commissioned to commemorate Britain’s politicians and statesmen and its allies who held office during the First World War.

It is a group portrait of seventeen figures, some seated and some standing. Guthrie painted a study of each subject separately; he held sittings between 1919 to 1921. 

William Morris Hughes, 1862 – 1952. Prime Minister of Australia

  • Title:                William Morris Hughes, 1862 – 1952. Prime Minister of Australia
  • Artist:               James Guthrie
  • Date:                1920
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    91.5 × 71.1 cm (36 × 27.9 in)
  • Category:         Popular Portrait Paintings
  • Museum:         Scottish National Gallery

James Guthrie

Great Australian Billy Hughes

A Virtual Tour of Portraits

1952: Billy Hughes, State Ceremony

Virtual Tour of the Scottish National Gallery

Little Billy Hughes

Billy Hughes and Woodrow Wilson 1919


“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
– William Shakespeare


Photo Credit: 1) James Guthrie / Public domain.

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