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The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders - Portrait of an Officer, 1939
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The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders - Portrait of an Officer, 1939

Measurements: Overall: 72cm (28.5in) x 61cm (24in)

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Oil on canvas. Three quarters length portrait of an officer in service dress comprising black glengarry, doublet with Major’s rank badges, Sam Browne, Cameron of Erract kilt with sporran, khaki hose and scarlet flashes. Canvas: 58.4cm (23in) x 88.8cm (35in). Signed lower right ‘Will Longstaff’. Framed.

The present undated portrait is the work of an important Australian artist of the Great War, who during the Great Depression turned to landscape painting and portraiture to support his family. The sitter wears the interwar service uniform officer of the Cameron Highlanders, the regular battalions of which were stationed in the late 1930s in Britain and the Sudan. In 1939 the 1st Battalion went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force and subsequently took part in the Battle of France. Longstaff lived in West Sussex with his second wife and two daughters and during the Second World War returned to spiritualist themes of his First World War paintings with ‘Drake’s Drum’ (1940) in response to the evacuation of Dunkirk. His ‘Battle of El Alamein’ (1942) is in the National Army Museum.

Captain William Frederick Longstaff (1880-1953) was a cousin of Australian painter Sir John Longstaff. He was born at Ballarat, Victoria and studied freehand drawing at the Ballarat School of Mines. In early 1900 he took ship to England intending to further his art education, but with the onset of the South African War (1899-1902), he joined the imperial forces at Durban, and served as a Trooper in the South African Light Horse for sixteen months. Thereafter Longstaff returned to Ballarat but left again for London in 1908, this time escaping an unsuccessful marriage. He studied at the Heatherley School in London and later in Paris. He returned to Australia to teach art in 1910-11 with the Australian painter Leslie Wilkie. 

Following the outbreak of the First World War Longstaff joined the Australian Imperial Force and was sent to Egypt in November 1915 with the 1st Australian Remount Unit. He was invalided to England in October 1917, and in 1918 trained as a camouflage officer before being appointed to the headquarters if the 2nd Australian Division as a divisional artist under the Australian Record Section War Art Scheme. At the end of the war he applied to be discharged in England so he could return to France to complete a series of battle pictures with the intention of exhibiting them in Australia the following year. These included ‘8 August 1918,’ and ‘Breaking the Hindenburg Line’. In the late 1920s he began to produce a series of paintings  with other worldly overtones, including ‘Immortal Shrine (Eternal Silence)’ (1928); ‘The Rearguard (Spirit of ANZAC), (1928 - purchased by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and the ‘Ghosts of Vimy Ridge’ (Canadian National Vimy Memorial)’ (1931). His best known work, however, was to be the supernatural 'Menin Gate at Midnight' (1927), depicting a column of ghostly soldiers marching in front of the memorial to some 54,000 Commonwealth dead with no known grave. It was exhibited in London, Manchester and Glasgow and toured Australia to great acclaim.
 

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