Portraits of Chief Justices and the first bench

  • Court 2
  • Percival (Percy) WHITE
  • (1885–1967)
  • Sir Isaac Isaacs
  • 1930
  • oil on canvas
  • Presented to the High Court by the Judean League of Victoria, collection of the High Court of Australia

The Rt Hon Sir Isaac Alfred Isaacs (1855–1948) was a Justice of the High Court from 12 October 1906 to 1 April 1930, a Privy Counsellor from 1921, and the third Chief Justice of the High Court, from 2 April 1930 to 21 January 1931. He joined the Victorian Bar in 1880 and was awarded a Master of Laws in 1883. He was appointed a Queen's Counsel (QC) in 1899.

Isaac Isaacs had another career in politics. He was Member for Bogong in the Victorian Legislative Assembly (May 1892–May 1893, June 1893–May 1901), Solicitor-General in 1893, and Attorney-General 1894–99 and 1900–01. In 1897 he was elected to the Federal Constitutional Convention and from 1901 to 1906 he served in the House of Representatives, including as Attorney-General (1905–06).

Sir Isaac Isaacs was the first Australian-born Governor-General (1931–36).

His civil honours included a Knight Commander (KCMG) in 1928, a Grand Cross of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in 1932, and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) in 1937.

Although he did not take great part in the affairs of the Jewish community in Melbourne, Sir Isaac Isaacs wrote extensively on biblical and religious subjects for the Jewish press and spoke at various Jewish functions. His contribution to debate on various issues of Judaism was important.

Former Chief Justices (further information)

About the artist

  • Percival (Percy) Israel White, born Peretz Witofski in July 1885, attended the Vilnius Art School in Lithuania where one of his fellow students was Marc Chagall. His teachers and mentors included Adolf von Menzel and Professor Liebermann. He worked in Leningrad, Berlin and Paris and then in London for many years, before emigrating with his family to Australia in 1926. In London he exhibited with the sculptor Jacob Epstein. In Melbourne in 1963 his entry in the third annual exhibition of members of the Jewish Society of Arts was awarded the 'best overall exhibit' and his oil painting 'Indian Shepherd' was nominated for the B’Nai Brith Interstate and New Zealand Travelling Exhibition. He exhibited in the 1964 and 1965 annual exhibitions at the Toorak Gallery and in the Young Lions Second Annual Jewish Art Exhibition at the Argus Gallery in c.1980. Mr White was the first official patron of the Melbourne-based Bezalel Fellowship of Arts in 1965, and was regarded as the dean of Jewish artists in Australia. He was commissioned to paint a portrait of retiring Chief Justice Sir Frank Gavan Duffy in about 1935. That portrait, said to be in the possession of the Victorian Bar, may have been one of the inducements offered to Sir Frank to encourage him to retire to make way for Sir John Latham. Some of Percy White's other portraits include Dr W Moloney MP, Sir John McFarland, Sir John Monash, Leonard Vivian Biggs and Jack Koskie, and Rabbis Dr Joseph, Dr H Sanger, Chaim Gutnick. In 1927 Percy White entered drawings in pencil of Sir John Monash and Gustave Stahel in the Archibald Prize, as he did in 1928 of Mr Edward Vidler and Dr William Maloney MHR. Percy White's portrait of Sir Isaac Isaacs in judicial robes and wig was unveiled in hte presence of state and federal members of parliament at Monash House in Melbourne on 7 January 1932.