This site has been set up to promote awareness of the 20th Century Australian artist, William Edwin Pidgeon, aka “Wep”.
Bill Pidgeon’s career spanned from the mid-1920s through the 1970s. He started out in the newspaper industry and quickly forged a name in the local Sydney press, known as “Wep”. In 1933 he helped create the dummy for The Australian Women’s Weekly with his friend and the magazine’s first editor, George Warnecke. Working for Consolidated Press he became well known throughout Australia for his political cartoons, comic strips, illustrations, his covers and war paintings for The Australian Women’s Weekly, which are now collectables today. However, Bill’s true passion was his painting and in January 1949 he resigned from Consolidated Press to focus on winning Australia’s most prestigious prize for portraiture, the Archibald Prize. Not only did he achieve that aim but he won the award three times. However, his earlier career always overshadowed the success of his painting with headlines such as “Cartoonist wins Archibald.”
In 1956 he was diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes and underwent a total of six operations on his eyes to remove cataracts and ultimately his eye lenses. By the 1970s he was deemed legally blind. The difficulties he faced with his eyesight were always kept very private for fear of losing valuable commissions.
Shortly after Bill’s glaucoma diagnosis he was invited by the Romanian Government to visit Romania on a Cultural Exchange trip. It was his only trip overseas despite a yearning to see the works of the great masters of Europe since the late 1920s. In addition to Romania, Bill took the opportunity to visit Rome and Venice in Italy, Munich in Germany, Vienna and Budapest whilst in transit to Bucharest, Romania. His stay was cut short due to the pending threat of the Soviets quelling the uprising rebellion in Hungary. He spent an extended period in Paris, France catching up with an old colleague and then London, England. In order to travel behind the “Iron Curtain”, Bill had to get special permission from the Australian Government and as a consequence came under the scrutiny of the Australian Security Intelligence Office (ASIO) for the next three years as a potential Communist sympathiser.
Due to his failing sight, Bill completed his last portrait in early 1973. King Watson, Bill’s friend and editor of Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph asked him if he would be interested in standing in for their regular political cartoonist which he agreed to do between 1974-1975. In addition, he returned to art reviews for the Sunday Telegraph with a weekly column from 1974 to 1979.
Bill was never a commercial artist. He painted for the love of it and would rather give his works away than sell them. He never had a solo exhibition and only ever participated in group exhibitions. Consequently, not many works have changed hands and even though very well known during his life, since his death, awareness of his name has slipped from the visibility of the modern art world.