Art and the Law: The Archibald prize case of 1944 and beyond

On 18 April the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History will host a lecture by Dr Peter Edwell and the Hon. Keith Mason AC KC on “Art and the Law: The Archibald Prize case of 1944 and beyond”.

When the dispute over the award of the Archibald Prize to William Dobell went to the Supreme Court of NSW in 1944 it made headlines around Australia. With Garfield Barwick as counsel for the relators and Frank Kitto acting for the respondents, the legal arguments and tactics employed in the case took centre stage in one of Australia’s most famous court dramas. Behind the scenes, art and the law were strongly connected with the influential figure of Lionel Lindsay playing an important role in the case and possessing strong links with business, political and legal powerbrokers, especially Chief Justice Frederick Jordan.

This lecture investigates some key aspects of the case and the influences at play on Barwick and Kitto. It also examines connections between Lionel Lindsay and Chief Justice Jordan together with the controversy behind the creation of Mary Edwards’ portrait of Jordan that hangs in the Banco Court today.

The lecture will be held in Court 13A of the Supreme Court, Queens Square, Sydney at 5.15 pm.

All RAHS members are welcome to attend. No registration is necessary.

About the presenters

Keith Mason served as Solicitor-General of New South Wales (1987-1997) and President of the NSW Court of Appeal (1997-2008). In 2019 he published the first biographical study of Chief Justice Frederick Jordan (Sir Frederick Jordan: Fire under the Frost) and has published other material on Jordan and his connections to the art world in the 1940s.

Peter Edwell is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History and Archaeology at Macquarie University. His most recent book, The Case that Stopped a Nation: The Archibald Prize controversy of 1944, deals with the controversy surrounding the award of the Archibald Prize to William Dobell for his portrait of fellow-artist Joshua Smith. It is the first detailed study of the controversy and court case and was short-listed for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in 2022.