I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea  Western Australian born Dorothy Tangney (1907-1985) was Australia’s first female senator in federal parliament (elected 1943).  In 1944 it was announced by the Government that her portrait was to be painted for the nation. The other woman to be honoured  in the same way  that year was Tasmania’s Dame Enid Lyons, the first female elected to the House of Representatives, also in 1943.  Sydney born Mary Edwards was to paint Dame Enid.


Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons entering parliament in 1943.

SOURCE – Australian War Museum.

The artist Tempe Manning was chosen to complete Tangney’s portrait. Manning lived in the beautiful South Highlands of NSW.

Article announcing that Tempe Manning was to paint Dorothy Tangney.

Source – Daily Telegraph 12 April 1944

Senator Tangney had been ill over the winter of 1944 due to overwork and stress. It was October before to travelled to Bowral for the portrait sitting. She took a pile of correspondence with her, but she was also hoping to rest and have a little holiday. She rented a flat adjacent to Tempe Manning’s studio.  Things didn’t quite work out as planned however,  because she had to fend for herself and battle with an unfamiliar kerosene stove.

For the portrait, Miss Manning had asked her subject to pose in academic robes and mortar-board.  She used a red background to contrast with the  black of the gown and the  royal blue lining of its hood.

Back in her home city of Perth, a very happy Tangney pronounced  Tempe Manning. ‘A magician. not an artist.‘ (Daily News, Perth. Mar. 29 1945).

The portrait was duly submitted  to The Historic Memorials Committee in Canberra, but instead of receiving her  £200 commission cheque. Manning received a curt note informing her that the work had been rejected.



Initially, no explanation was given to the artist for the rejection, but here is what The Sydney Sun reported;

A Canberra message says Miss Manning’s portrait of Senator Tangney makes her look about four stone lighter than she really is.  One person who has seen the picture commented, ‘She has been glamorized with a sylph-like figure as if she were a film star.

In response, Tempe Manning told reporters; ‘As I painted her in academic gown and mortar-board, I was able to utilize the black gown to hide any surplus weight, which Miss Tangney is very sensitive about. She is only 4ft 11in in height and weighed about 12 stone when I did the portrait…I did not wittingly falsify her proportions. If they like to take measurements I think they will find it is the black gown that has done the trick. Senator Tangney was delighted with the portrait.

The Western Australian newspaper published a piece in which the artist commented that Senator Tangney had been an excellent subject, even though there were less sittings  than desirable due to Tangney’s illness. ‘They say I made the portrait a little too glamorous” said Miss Manning, “but all I did was to utilise the black gown Senator Tangney was wearing to disguise her fatness. When she saw the completed picture about three months ago she told me she loved it.’     Fatness?? I hope that wasn’t a direct quote. (West Australian, Oct. 8 1945)

I can’t believe the liberties people took in discussing the Senator’s figure. Once a woman she met on a boat sailing east from Perth wrote a poem in her honour for Christmas which began;

In 1946  Archibald Prize winner A.D. Colquhoun was commissioned to paint a replacement portrait. It now hangs in The National Portrait Gallery. Where did the rejected portrait end up I wonder?

Portrait of Dorothy Tangney


By the way, the commissioned portrait of Dame Enid Lyons, by Mary Edwards, was also rejected. Here is the story.



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