William Edwin Pidgeon (1909–1981), war correspondent and artist

Portrait of a young woman

William Edwin Pidgeon, Jessie (1940), oil on canvas, purchased 2012. ART94590

William Edwin Pidgeon was a painter, cartoonist, illustrator, and newspaper critic. Known as “Wep”, Pidgeon became a cadet artist with the Sunday News in 1926. During the Second World War he was a correspondent for Consolidated Press, filing a stream of illustrations for the Australian Women’s Weekly and presenting a counterpoint to the work of the official war artists.  

Wep’s work, which focused on day-to-day snapshots of the Australians’ experiences, heralded a new style in Australian illustration. His spontaneous sketches broke away entirely from the tradition of tonal draughtsmanship and were “modern, fresh, and entirely original … a new departure in comic-art genre”. His paintings “served to make life at the front imaginable, and thus less alarming … the emphasis is deliberately [on the] homely aspects of life behind the lines”.

After the Second World War, Wep concentrated mainly on portrait painting. From 1974 to 1979 he served as art critic for the Sunday Telegraph and won the Archibald Prize three times in 1958, 1961, and 1968.  

This exhibition presents a selection of the over 400 works by William Pidgeon held in the Memorial’s Art collection, relating to Pidgeon’s Second World War experiences in Darwin, New Guinea, Borneo and Morotai between 1943 to 1945. On display from 6 March 2015.