General Sir John Monash GCMG KCB (1865-1931) was one of Australia’s great military leaders. Dux of Scotch College, he studied engineering, law and arts at the University of Melbourne, joining the University Company as a volunteer soldier. After graduating, he began a career in engineering and construction, but at the onset of World War I he was appointed to lead the 4th Infantry Brigade of the Australian Imperial Force in Egypt. After heading his troops at Gallipoli, in 1916 he moved to the Western Front, where he was to earn his great renown as a tactician, dedicated to minimising casualties through rigorous training, detailed planning and strong technical and mechanical support of his troops. His book on engineering applied to modern warfare, The Australian Victories in France in 1918, was later submitted to the University of Melbourne as a thesis, on the strength of which Monash was awarded the first doctorate in engineering to be conferred by an Australian university. He was promoted to command the Australian Corps in 1918. He returned from the war with copious British, European and American honours, though he later wrote that ‘nothing could have been more repugnant to me than the realisation of the dreadful inefficiency of, and the misspent energy of, war’. On his return to civilian life, Monash became General Manager, and later Chairman, of the Victorian State Electricity Commission, overseeing its expansion and modernisation. Involved with a number of public organisations including the Boy Scouts and the University of Melbourne, he remained a much- loved public figure in Victoria until his death; his State funeral was attended by some 300,000 people.
James Quinn (1869-1951) was born in Melbourne and trained at the National Gallery of Victoria School before studying in Paris from the mid-1890s to 1902. Living in London from then onwards, he exhibited at the Royal Academy and in France. He served as an official war artist, and the painting of Monash is one of a series of portraits he made of Australian and British military leaders in 1918 and 1919. Having established his reputation as a martial and political portraitist, Quinn returned to Australia to live in Victoria in 1935.