Joan Kirner portrait

Joan Kirner, premier 1990-92
Title Premier Joan Kirner
Artist Annette Bezor
Date 1994
Medium Oil on canvas
1140 x 1050 x 70 mm
Premier 10th August 1990 – 6th October 1992.

Joan Kirner (1938-2015), Victoria's first female Premier, held office from 1990 to 1992. Kirner became leader of the Labor party on John Cain's resignation and in spite of political and economic difficulties her period in office can be seen to have significantly altered public perceptions of the role of women in politics.

Kirner was born 20th June 1938 in Essendon, the daughter of a fitter and turner father and music teacher mother. She was educated at Penleigh Ladies College and University High School and graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1958 with a Bachelor of Arts and Diploma of Education. She worked as a teacher for a number of years and later became involved in parent activism with the aim of improving state education, particularly for disadvantaged schools. Prior to standing for parliament she was represented on numerous educational Boards and Committees.

Entering politics in 1982, Kirner was elected MLC for Melbourne West. In 1988 she was elected MLA for Williamstown and as Minister for Education (1988-90) she helped shape educational policies and vigorously supported the role of state education.

Kirner embraced with enthusiasm the portfolio of Women's Affairs during her Premiership and achieved reforms in sexual assault legislation that led to public campaigns against violence. By the end of her term as Premier a basic agenda for women's policy had been established.

Joan Kirner resigned from Parliament in 1994, but remained actively involved in organisations committed to increasing the participation of women in politics, such as Emily’s List. She also co-authored "The Women's Power Handbook", a practical guide for women aspiring to a political career.

The Artist and the Portrait

 Annette Bezor 1950-

Bezor's adventurous portrait is a breath of fresh air alongside the conservative depictions of Kirner's male predecessors. Apart from good formal training and skill in achieving a likeness, Bezor could not have had less in common with these artists of the conservative art establishment. She was a young, emerging painter with a highly distinctive personal style. Bezor'sophisticated works feature an experimental edge, and like Kirner, she was concerned with feminist issues.

Born in Adelaide, Bezor graduated from the South Australian School of Art in 1977. In the same year she won the John Christie Wright Memorial Prize for life drawing and painting. Her numerous awards and grants include a residency at the Cite des Arts, Paris (1986) and The Sara Weis Award for the Nude (1992). Bezor brings postmodern complexity and freshness to the figurative tradition.

Even though Bezor carefully planned the portrait with the aid of diverse photographs of Kirner, the vitality of the work reflects a distinct connection between artist and sitter. A radiant red, the colour of power, suffuses the picture and gives it a commanding presence. Bezor has captured key qualities in Kirner's personality and the viewer is struck by her apparent openness, confidence and warmth. The viewpoint too is a refreshing departure from the standard repertoire of traditional portraits. Here,  Kirner directly engages the viewer from behind her dark mahogany desk with her hand gesturing, as if to make an incisive point.


© Annette Bezor