Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE (1909–2012), philanthropist and matriarch, was the widow of Sir Keith Murdoch and mother of the publisher, Rupert Murdoch. Over more than sixty years she contributed unstintingly to Australian artistic, cultural, educational and community causes, particularly in her home state of Victoria. She endowed the Murdoch Children’s Research Unit, the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Sculpture Foundation, the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Arboretum, and the Australian Ballet. She provided scholarships for research into childhood deafness and the development of chamber music groups; funded digitisation projects; and lent her support to a range of programs to help troubled and ill youth. In 2003 Murdoch received the Great Australian Philanthropy Award and in 2005 – at the age of ninety-eight – she was named Victorian of the Year. She died at 103, and was commemorated in a service at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, attended by a thousand people including representatives of some 100 charities she supported.
The Victorian Tapestry Workshop (the VTW) opened in 1976 and is now regarded as a world centre for contemporary hand- woven tapestry. Dame Elisabeth Murdoch was a Founding Member of its Board of Management, and was for a time its chair. Its former Director, Sue Walker, recalls that in Murdoch’s various roles over the years as a Board member and ‘great friend’, she followed the progress of many tapestries the VTW produced. Around the time this commission was completed, Walker described Murdoch’s engagement with the process of her own portrait. ‘Enquiring into the lives and welfare of each of the weavers on her visits, she has shared the creative journey with us, exhibiting her famous exuberant excitement at the completion of weaving. Her bright mind, her generosity of spirit, and her boundless enthusiasm have enriched our lives in the VTW. Through this exciting commission we had the chance to capture something of these qualities in the very art-form she had so passionately nurtured.’ This portrait was borrowed and displayed at the memorial service for Dame Elisabeth at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, in December 2012.