It may seem frivolous to comment on the colour of the outfit worn by outgoing Governor-General Quentin Bryce in her official portrait, but it is integral to the story of her career.
‘‘She’s wearing suffragette purple,’’ said artist Ralph Heimans. ‘‘This is something she wanted – to be represented in the colour of the women’s movement.’’ Heimans said his portrait of Ms Bryce contains many references to the issues she has championed during her career, including her commitment to equal rights and respect for indigenous culture.
Ms Bryce’s affection for rural Australia also features prominently in Heimans’s portrait, which was unveiled at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday.
The portrait depicts the Governor-General, who will be succeeded in the role by retired General Peter Cosgrove on Friday, walking through the door of her office at Yarralumla to an outside balcony.
The bush landscape of the national capital is mirrored in the windows, which Heimans says reflects Ms Bryce’s personal connection to the country that stems from her childhood in Ilfracombe, a small town in outback Queensland.
Commissioned by the Historic Memorials Committee for its collection, the 1.9 metre x 1.36 metre portrait of Australia’s first woman Governor-General will hang in the Members Hall of Parliament House in Canberra alongside William Dargie’s 1953 portrait of the Queen.
Ms Bryce, a proponent of same-sex marriage and Australia becoming a republic, has been painted by Barbara Tyson for the 2011 Archibald Prize as well as by rhinoplasty surgeon Dr Gillian Dunlop.
A graduate of Sydney’s Julian Ashton School of Art, Heimans has made a name for himself as a royal artist. In 2005, he was selected by Denmark’s national portrait gallery to paint the first official portrait of Princess Mary and in 2012 he painted the Queen for the British monarch’s diamond jubilee.
Compared with his regal subjects, Heimans says his sessions with Ms Bryce were relaxed: ‘‘Anyone compared with the Queen would have less formality. She clearly comes across as someone in command but with real grace.’’
Ms Bryce labelled Heimans one of Australia’s leading portrait painters. ‘‘I marvel at his capacity to tell a story, to capture who I am, what I believe in, with a composition rich in symbolism.’’