Australians have a particular affection for portraits as evidenced by the popular Archibald and Moran portrait prizes and Anh Do’s Brush with Fame program on ABC Television. It is a fascination we share with the British.
London and Edinburgh established portrait galleries in the 19th century. We caught up just 20 years ago. Championed by Janette Howard and driven financially and organisationally by Gordon and Marilyn Darling, the National Portrait Gallery was founded in Canberra in 1998. Housed in a building designed by architect Richard Johnson, it is a distinguished addition to the galleries and museums in Canberra. The National Museum of Australia, another initiative of the Howard Government, moved into its purpose built home on the lakeside in 2001. The National Library building, commissioned by the Menzies Government, designed by Walter Bunning, opened in 1968 by John Gorton, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The Portrait Gallery has marked its 20th anniversary by commissioning 20 portraits to join the 2,700 portraits already in the collection. The subjects and their artists were chosen to fill gaps in the collection. They include Margaret Sears by Cherry Hood, Jacki Weaver by John Tsiavis, Gail Kelly by Paul Newton, and Fred Hilmer by Evert Ploeg. Another portrait by Ploeg was also unveiled last week: Tamie Fraser commissioned by The Australiana Fund to honour its founder and mark the Fund’s 40th anniversary, is on long-term loan to the NPG.