Jerry Wilkes, President 1966-67, The Journalists’ Club of Sydney

Portrait of Jerry Wilkes, President 1966-67, The Journalists' Club, Sydney by W.E. Pidgeon 1971
Jerry Wilkes, President 1966-67, The Journalists’ Club, Sydney by W.E. Pidgeon 1971

Suffering from severe glaucoma and cataracts in both eyes, Bill Pidgeon agreed to a very special commission for The Journalists’ Club of Sydney to paint seven former Presidents to accompany the many others he had done previously for the Club. This portrait of his friend Jerry Wilkes was done in 1971 and was one of Bill’s very last portraits.

In 1973 Bill received the following letter of glowing praise from Jerry.

April 30, 1973.

Dear Bill,

I recently sent photographs of your portrait of me to a very old friend in London, a man of impeccable taste and fine perception. I thought you would be interested in what he has to say in a letter to me:

“Thank you so much for the photographs of the portrait. How extraordinarily good it is! He has captured the quintessence of your personality, which, of course, is the true function of a portrait painter, whereas some of the fashionable painters of today are so determined to astonish all beholders by the profundity of their ‘insight’ into the sitter that they exaggerate every characteristic of the face, ending up with a caricature that reveals more about the painter than the subject. You will remember that when a grateful nation paid Graham Sutherland to depict Winston in oils the resulting canvas exaggerated his bulldog qualities, obliterated the charm and drew special attention to the flies. No wonder it was given a prompt consignment to the cellar.”

As for me Bill, I think that the portrait of Ray Walker is the only one of those in the Journalists’ Club that better portrays the character of the sitter than that of me.

Yours, Jerry

Jerry Wilkes alongside the portrait of himself by Bill Pidgeon in the Journalists' Club, Sydney
Jerry Wilkes alongside the portrait of himself by Bill Pidgeon in the Journalists’ Club, Sydney

An addendum to this story was added five years later …

October 31, 1978

Dear Bill,

I was sitting in the Journalists’ Club dining room with Stella and for the thousandth time, looking around at the portraits you painted. I am now quite sure that those you painted of Ray Walker and of me are masters, because they are, as well as marvelous examples of the true art of portrayal of the image of the sitter, portrayals also of character.

Taking a cold look at myself, as I have been in the habit of doing for fifty years, I believe that, in 1971, despite the disability under which you were labouring, you saw clearly who I was and put that into paint.

Yours, Jerry