Betty Cuthbert AC MBE (1938-2017), sprinter, was Australia’s leading gold-medal winning track and field athlete. In 1956 she set a women’s world record for the 200 metres at Moore Park, beating the record set by her compatriot Marjorie Jackson at the 1952 Helsinki Games. Cuthbert had tickets to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games as a spectator, but she attended as a competitor, earning the nickname the ‘Golden Girl’ from the Melbourne Argus when she won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay. The 1958 Commonwealth Games, the 1960 Olympics and the 1962 Commonwealth Games went badly for her, but at the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 she won the 400m, making her only the second woman to have won four different track races. In 1969 she developed multiple sclerosis, and was a vigorous fundraiser for research into the disease. In 1998, Cuthbert was named a Living National Treasure; the Athletic Stadium at Homebush is named in her honour.
Andrew Daly is a Perth-based artist. In 2002 he was one of five artists whose work was hung in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Intimate Portraits. Curator Andrew Sayers wrote of Daly: 'It is unusual to find an artist who makes such a virtue of quietness . . . his paintings are constructed with great sensitivity to structure, colour and tonal nuance.' Looking for a West Australian artist to represent Betty Cuthbert, who lives in Mandurah, near Perth, and is confined to a wheelchair, Sayers thought of Daly, feeling that the careful, domestic quality of his portraits would fit well with the personality and circumstances of the gentle track star. The year this portrait was painted Cuthbert suffered a dangerous brain haemorrhage, but she made a good recovery, characteristically thanking God for looking after her during the many months of her recovery.