Birth date: 10 March 1861
Birth place: Australia: Victoria, Clunes
Death date: 1 October 1941
Death place: Australia: Victoria, Melbourne
Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

John Longstaff was born in Clunes, Victoria, and from an early age was encouraged by his mother to draw. He commenced studying at the National Gallery of Victoria's school of art in 1882; and, in 1887, was the inaugural recipient of the school's travelling scholarship, enabling him to study at the Académie Cormon in Paris. Spending time with expatriate artist John Peter Russell and also travelling to Spain, his work was exhibited in the Paris Salon. Moving to London in 1893, he gained a reputation as a fashionable portrait painter, though returned to Australia two years later accepting several public commissions. He returned to London in 1901, where he remained until 1920. Longstaff was an established academic realist painter, respected portraitist and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy.

The outbreak of the First World War affected Longstaff's family, as his three eldest sons had enlisted with the British Army. The impact of this involvement is clear in the emotionally rendered 1916 posthumous painting, Portrait of my son (Lieutenant John Campbell 'Jack' Longstaff). Killed in action on the Somme on 7 July 1916, the young man is in semi-profile. His uniformed figure turns away from the viewer into the dark shadowy background, while his face is bathed in a gentle light. Inscribed verso 'not for public sale', this is a deeply personal image that Longstaff had painted for himself rather than for public exhibition.

As with other Australian artists living in London during the First World War, Longstaff was eager to participate as an artist. With the inception of the Australian official war art scheme in 1917, Longstaff was appointed in May 1918. With the rank of honorary lieutenant, he was attached to the 3rd Australian Division with instructions to complete portraits of military leaders and other significant personnel who, in the opinion of the commanding officers, should be represented. Longstaff also produced studies of military operations and collected data on incidents of the 1918 German spring offensive.

Longstaff worked in France from May to June, and again in September to October 1918. He returned to London in summer and was notified by AIF Headquarters of the arrival of officers on his list. He was still completing portraits in London in 1920. The Memorial commissioned him to paint additional portraits on his return to Australia in 1920 and again in 1923, 1924 and 1928. These formal portraits, painted in subdued tones of brown, khaki with touches of warm light, show Australia's military leaders as strong, noble and capable.

A testament to his popularity as a portrait painter, Longstaff won the Archibald Prize on four occasions. For the remainder of his career he held numerous positions in Australian art societies and organisations. He was also a trustee at the National Gallery of Victoria. Knighted for his services to art in 1933, Sir John Longstaff died in Melbourne on 1 October 1941, aged 79.

Rolls and Awards

Collection Items


Major General Sir Charles Rosenthal

A portrait of Major General Sir Charles Rosenthal, KCB, CMG, DSO, MID, General Commanding the 2 Division Australian Imperial Forces on the Western Front and the Third 1st Australian Imperial Force, 3rd Australian Division, Australian Corps.


Lieutenant Colonel Carl Jess

Portrait of Colonel and Temporary Brigadier General (later Lieutenant General Sir) Carl Herman Jess, Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), Commanding 10th Infantry Brigade, 1st Australian Imperial Force. Colonel Jess is shown wearing a tunic with DSO and an Order of the White Eagle...


Brigadier General Iven Giffard MacKay

A portrait of Brigadier General (later Major General Sir) Iven Giffard Mackay, CMG, DSO, MID (x4), Commanding, 1st Infantry Brigade, Western Front, (later North Africa) 1st Australian Imperial Force, 4th Battalion, 1st Machine Gun Battalion, 1st Infantry Brigade, (later also 6th Division 2nd AIF).


General Sir Cyril Brudenell White

A portrait of Major General Sir (later Lieutenant General) Cyril Brudenell Bingham White, KCMG, KCVO, DSO (later KCB), General Staff 5th Army; Western Front 1st Australian Imperial Force, British 5th Army.


Lieutenant General Sir John Monash

A portrait of Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, GCMG, KCB, Commanding, Aust. Corps.


Sergeant Walter "Wally" Brown, VC

A portrait of Sergeant Walter Ernest Brown, VC, DCM, (VC awarded for actions at - Accroche Wood), (later also 2/15th Field Regiment, 2 AIF) 1928; 20th Infantry Battalion.


Lieutenant General Sir John Monash

A portrait of Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, GCMG, KCB, Commanding, Aust. Corps, wearing red/white/red Corps Headquarters armband on right arm above five years' service stripes; Western Front.


Colonel Graham Butler

A portrait of Colonel A Graham Butler, DSO, AAMC, Commanding 3 AGH, later also author of Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services 1914-1918, Western Front 1st Australian Imperial Force, Australian Army Medical Service, 3rd Field Ambulance, No 3 Australian General Hospital.


Brigadier-General Evan Wisdom

A portrait of Brigadier General Evan Alexander Wisdom, CB, CMG, DSO, MID (x5), 1st Australian Imperial Force, 5th Australian Infantry Brigade, 18th Battalion, 7th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division.


Brigadier-General Walter Coxen

A portrait of Brigadier General Walter Adams Coxen, CB, CMG, DSO, MID (x4), General Commanding Royal Art. Aust. Corps; Western Front 1st Australian Imperial Force, Australian Siege Brigade, 1st Division Artillery, Royal Artillery Australian Corps.


Brigadier General Sydney Herring

A portrait of Brigadier General Sydney Charles Edgar Herring CMG, DSO, VD, Commanding Officer of the 13th Infantry Brigade.


Colonel Frederick Maguire

A portrait of Colonel Frederick Arthur Maguire, DSO, Assistant Director Medical Services, German, Western Front, Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF), 9th Field Ambulance, 3rd Australian Division.


Sergeant James Maguire

A portrait of Sergeant James Bernard Maguire, DCM and Bar, 4th Infantry Battalion, Western Front, Demicourt, 1929.


Brigadier General James Robertson

A portrait of Brigadier General James Campbell Robertson, CB, CMG, DSO, MID (x7), Commanding 6 Brigade AIF; Belgium, Western Front, 1st Australian Imperial Force, 9th Battalion, 12th Brigade.


In the park near Corps Headquarters at Bertangles

A tent among a wooded encampment in the Park near Corps Headquarters, Bertangles, Flanders.


Private William Currey, VC

A portrait of Private William Matthew Currey, VC, 53rd Infantry Battalion.The Victoria Cross is prominently displayed on Currey's chest. Longstaff has highlighted the medal by matching its ribbon to the dark burgundy background. William Currey was born 19 September 1895 at Wallsend, New South...


Leading signalman John Varcoe

A portrait of Leading Signalman John William Varcoe, DSM, RAN; East Africa, Mediterranean Station, Royal Australian Navy, British Adriatic Force.


Brigadier General Harold Grimwade

A portrait of Brigadier General Harold William Grimwade, CB, CMG, MID (x4), General Commanding Artillery Australian Corps; Western Front, 1st Australian Imperial Force, 4th Field Artillery Brigade, 3rd Australian Artillery, Artillery Australia Corps.


Lieutenant General Sir John Monash

A portrait of Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, GCMG, KCB, commanding, Australian Corps, 1st Australian Imperial Force, 3rd Australian Division.


Portrait of Lieutenant John (Jack) Longstaff by his father John Longstaff

A portrait of Lieutenant John Campbell 'Jack' Longstaff, British Army, 1/5 Battalion York and Lancashire Regiment. Second killed in action 7 July 1916; Western Front, Somme, France. The portrait was painted by his father, the artist John Longstaff.


Commander Henry Feakes

A portrait of Commander Henry James Feakes of the Royal Australian Navy and Commanding Officer of the RAN light cruiser 'HMAS Psyche'.


Australian official war artists 1916-1918

Depicts many Australian official war artists who were attached to different divisions of the AIF during the First World War, in a group portrait. The painting was originally owned by Cyril Steele of Melbourne. It was noted that the painting was considered to be an example of Coates' work that was...


Corporal Edward Picton

A portrait of Corporal Edward Benjamin Picton, DCM, MM, 1st (MM), (DCM), (later also NX12136, 1st Railway Construction Coy, 2 AIF, ) 1928; 7th Australian Light Horse Regiment.


Brigadier General W R McNicoll

This three quarter portrait of Brigadier General W.R. McNicholl in uniform was painted while Longstaff was in France from May to June or September to October 1918. Brigadier General McNicholl who was in charge of the 10th Battalion, located his headquarters just east of Curlu, near Clery. It was an...


Brigadier General Charles Cox

A portrait of Brigadier General Charles Frederick Cox, CB, CMG, DSO, MID, also previously in (Boer) War, 1st Australian Imperial Force, 6th Australian Light Horse Regiment, 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade.


Study for 'John Monash'

Full length portrait study of Lieutenant General John Monash. Wearing a riding uniform and holding a glove and riding crop in his hands, Monash is portrayed as if he has just dismounted from his horse to survey a battlefield on the Western Front. He wears the red/white/red Corps Headquarters...



Date of birth 1861-03-10
Date of death 1941-10-01