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

Ray Walker; President, Australian Journalists’ Club, Syd.: Wep’s 1958 Archibald Prize winner

Mr Ray Walker; William Pidgeon, 1958 Archibald Portrait Prize winner. (Photo: AGNSW)

WARNING: if somebody offers to sell you this painting today, do not be tempted. However much you might like it (and your view was shared by the Archibald prize judges in 1958), you should decline politely and call the police, because it was stolen from Sydney’s Journalists’ Club on Saturday. Bill Pidgeon’s portrait of journalist Ray Walker had been hanging in the club for almost 40 years. A more recent Pidgeon portrait of another club president, Bill Perry, was also stolen. The paintings went missing between 2.30 and 5 pm, club president Jim North said yesterday. Both were hanging in the dining room, which was unattended but unlocked because it contains the club’s only female toilets. “The painting is probably worth around $10,000 but it is priceless to the Journalists’ Club,” North said. He said it was either a “brazen theft” or a “stupid prank”. Pidgeon, who also won the 1961 and 1969 [sic – 1968] Archibald prizes, was a newspaper cartoonist who signed his works “WEP”. He died in 1981.

Ref: Gossip, Stay In Touch, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Aug 1996

 

Paintings Recovered

Police have recovered two paintings stolen from a Sydney club after a thief with a guilty conscience dumped them outside the home of an artists’s widow.

The paintings, one of them the 1958 Archibald Prize winner by artists William E. Pidgeon, were stolen from the Journalists’ Club in Surrey Hills.

A spokesperson said the paintings said the paintings of past club presidents were valued at about $15,000 each.

Police said a man telephoned the painter’s widow, Dorothy Pidgeon, in Northwood and said that his friend had stolen the paintings and wanted to return them.

Twenty minutes later, Lane Cove police received a phone call from a man saying the paintings could be found outside Mrs Pidgeon’s house.

Bill Pidgeon painted seven past-Presidents of the Journalists’ Club for a total fee of 700 guineas.

Ref: The Village Observer, Sep 1996, p3

 

We reported yesterday that two paintings by the Archibald prize winner Bill Pidgeon had been stolen from the Sydney Journalists’ Club on Saturday. Now they have been found. Dorothy Pidgeon, the widow of the painter, said yesterday that a man had phoned her at home late on Sunday. “The caller said he knew who had stolen the paintings and he now had them and wanted to give them back because he could not live with his conscience.” she said. Then Lane Cove police received a call from a man saying the paintings could be found outside Mrs Pidgeon’s home in Northwood. A police mouthpiece said the paintings were found unharmed and they would be fingerprinted before being returned to the Journalists’ Club.

Ref: Gossip, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Aug 1996

 

RAY WALKER, subject of one of the two W.E. Pidgeon paintings stolen (then returned) from The Journalists’ Club in Chalmers Street, city, was a legendary chief sub-editor of The Daily Telegraph in the days when Frank Packer owned it. Ray had been a dashing rugby centre three-quarter for Queensland, but put on a kilo or two in later years. When WEP was painting him for the club’s gallery of presidents, he found he could get him to relax only by positioning a schooner of beer at his right hand.

Ref: “COLUMN 8”, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Aug 1996, p1

 

Sequel: When the guilty thief called Dorothy, he advised her he was going to leave the paintings at her letterbox near the front gate. Dorothy advised him that she did not want this and told him to leave them in the shed down the road at Northwood wharf. When the Journalists’ Club folded a year later in 1997, the portrait of Ray Walker was once again mis-appropriated and has never been recovered. It remains stolen and hopefully it will eventually be returned to the Estate of William Edwin Pidgeon, along with several other Pidgeon portraits, which also went missing.