HE was a trailblazer in Australia’s civic leadership – the first Jewish governor-general and the first native Australian to hold that office – but Sir Isaac Isaacs was also a controversial figure within the community for his opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state.
Now almost 80 years after he held office, his image has been preserved for posterity, gazing down on visitors to State Parliament.
The Jewish Museum of Australia (JMA), in partnership with the Parliament of Victoria, commissioned a portrait by artist Juan Ford for the museum’s collection, but the painting, to be formally unveiled at Parliament on October 14, will be loaned to its new Sir Isaac Alfred Isaacs reading room.
Legislative Council president Bruce Atkinson said the portrait was “a fitting tribute … and recognises the incredible contribution he made at state and federal level. We are delighted that the museum has generously agreed to loan this work to Parliament, so it can hang pride of place outside the reading room which will soon be renamed in Sir Isaac’s honour”.
JMA collections and exhibitions manager Peta Cook said: “We are thrilled to be adding such a significant work to our permanent collections, and even more thrilled that Sir Isaac will find pride of place at Parliament once more.”
Born in Melbourne in 1855, Isaacs was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1892, became a Queen’s Counsel in 1899, and was elected to Federal Parliament in 1901. He later served on the High Court before becoming the first Australian-born governor-general after prime minister James Scullin persuaded a reluctant King George V.
In the 1940s, Isaacs was at odds with the Jewish community over his outspoken opposition to what he termed “political Zionism, [which] must be sharply distinguished from religious and cultural Zionism to which I am strongly attached”.
Sir Isaac Isaacs was governor–general from 1931–1936.