Date of birth: 4 June 1912
Place of birth: Melbourne, Victoria
Date of death: 26 July 2003
Place of death: Melbourne, Victoria
Sir William Dargie had an influential career in Australian art as an artist, teacher and advisor. He trained as a primary and secondary school teacher until a chance visit to Archie Colquhoun’s studio in 1931 sparked a love of painting. Dargie chose to pursue an artistic career and studied at the Melbourne Technical College, but also informally with Colquhoun. A member of the Victorian Artists’ Society, he also exhibited at the Stair and the Athenaeum Galleries and in 1940 won two prizes, the McPhillimy, and the Woodward.
He was appointed an official war artist on 6 October1941 and travelled to the Middle East. He was based in Cairo, but went to Lebanon and Syria to paint the garrison activities of the Australian troops. He also painted the portrait of Victoria Cross recipient, Corporal Jim Gordon. Dargie then went to the Libyan desert where the RAAF No. 3 and No. 450 Squadrons were encamped with the RAF. On-the-spot drawings show daily life of land mines exploding near the aerodrome and aircraft taking off, while painted portraits are of pilots and ground crew including Sergeant Pilot - DFM winner and Riccy.
In mid 1942 Dargie returned to Melbourne, and over the next two years was deployed to New Guinea twice, both times travelling through northern Queensland, painting and drawing as he went. The steamy tropics provided new challenges and Dargie increasingly worked with pen and ink, or watercolour, making rough sketches of Australian soldiers around Port Moresby and Milne Bay. He painted when he could, as with In the Owen Stanley Jungle: two camouflaged soldiers about to go out on patrol and back in Melbourne painted the monumental Stretcher bearers in the Owen Stanleys.
Dargie visited the RAAF at Ratnap and Digri in India in late 1945. He completed portraits, but also drew RAAF preparations for raids over Burma and nearby islands. Dargie was sent to Greece and Crete in April 1946 to re-visit Australian battle sites from the 1940-41 campaigns. He made colour notes as reference for future paintings, and finally returned to Melbourne in August where he was discharged from service. During his five year deployment, Dargie endured significant setbacks and challenges in the field yet his commitment to his duties as an official war artist did not waver. Dargie’s drawings and paintings endure as engaging representations of the Australian experience of war.
After the Second World War, he worked closely with Colonel John Treloar in setting up the exhibition galleries at the Australian War Memorial, and also succeeded Louis McCubbin as Art Advisor to the Memorial's Board of Trustees, assisting in the appointment of official war artists to the Vietnam War. He was a highly sought after portraitist and won the Archibald Prize on eight occasions. Dargie held numerous advisory positions including a member of the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board, while he was also Head of the National Gallery of Victoria School of Art. He was knighted for his services to art in 1970.