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Goal 1: Enliven the Collection

  1. Research and present exhibitions, drawn from the collection and elsewhere, which contribute to a deeper understanding of the Australian identity.
  2. Develop new commissions that combine important and diverse Australian artists and sitters.
  3. Seek out, research and acquire portraits which portray the richness of our national identity.
  4. Encourage donations and loans of artwork which amplify Australia’s rich cultural diversity and contribute to the ways that portraiture is seen.
  5. Collaborate with artists and sitters to build the reputation of the Gallery.
  6. Conserve the collection for the benefit of future generations.


source: National Portrait Gallery of Australia Corporate Plan 2019-20

  • Commissioned works of art: target 2+ outcome 2*
  • Works acquired in accordance with the Collection Development Policy: target 100% outcome 100%
  • Collection stored in accordance with international museum standards: target 100% outcome 100%
  • Collection digitised: target 80% (50mb+ outcome 79.7% (50mb+ high resolution images) high resolution images), >98% (including low 99.6% (including low resolution images) resolution images)

* Commissions were initiated in 2019-20 will be delivered in 2020-21.


Develop the collection

Central to the National Portrait Gallery of Australia Act 2012 is the mandate to develop, preserve, promote and provide access to a national collection of portraiture. Collection development and management is thus the touchstone when considering the fulfilment of the organisation’s vision and mission.

At 30 June 2020, there were 2,981 portraits in the National Portrait Collection, with a value of $37.0 million.

The collection is at the core of the Gallery’s artistic identity and the reference point for its programs. The curators actively seek out portraits for proposed inclusion in the collection. Portraits of subjects that would enhance the collection are researched and sought from art dealers and commercial galleries, and through auction when appropriate. Donations of portraits are actively sought from potential donors. The Gallery receives many unsolicited offers of portraits for purchase and donation. Consideration of the quality of the artwork, potential opportunities for its display and the professional specialisations represented by sitters in the collection continue to inform acquisition and research deliberation.

The Gallery undertakes conservation treatment of collection works to reduce the risk of deterioration, to ensure long-term preservation, and to enhance their display.

A total of 246 collection works were condition checked as part of the ongoing management of artworks on loan, in travelling exhibitions, and new to the collection. Nine collection works underwent conservation treatment to maintain and enhance their material integrity.

Gallery staff develop and maintain professional collegiate relationships with peers in other cultural institutions on an ongoing basis, facilitating the sharing of information, and assisting research on the collection and exhibition projects.

The interpretation of the collection through thematic displays continues to provide enriching experiences for visitors to the Gallery.

Acquisition highlights

The reporting period is notable for having realised the acquisition of a number of highly significant portraits for the Gallery’s collection. Acquisitions made during the reporting period have not only strengthened each of the primary collection areas but, most importantly, have reaffirmed the Gallery’s commitment to profiling the best of contemporary and historical Australian portraiture.

Foremost among these acquisitions is Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe (From my women), a multi-panelled self-portrait by senior Gija woman Shirley Purdie. Created for the 2018 exhibition So Fine: Contemporary women artists make Australian history, this breathtaking work consists of 36 individual paintings, all executed in ochres and pigments collected by the artist from her Country, the East Kimberley, and each relating a different story, memory, relationship or aspect of cultural knowledge. The work is a landmark acquisition which enhances the Gallery’s capacity to engage with Aboriginal ways of seeing and understanding the world, as well as making an important contribution to the genre of portraiture more broadly. The work is currently the focus of an exhibition in the Marilyn Darling Gallery and online.

Another of the works created as a result of the So Fine exhibition was the series of papercut silhouette portraits by Pamela See, subsequently acquired for the collection in September 2019. The series depicts sixteen historically significant Chinese-Australians – including the performer Chang Woo Gow, and the nineteenth-century businessmen Quong Tart and Lowe Kong Meng – strengthening the representation of culturally-diverse historical figures and exemplifying the Gallery’s interest in contemporary interpretations of historical themes and creative processes. Indirectly, the 2018 So Fine exhibition also led to the acquisition of a very fine early 1850s watercolour portrait of Elizabeth Read (née Archer, c. 1820-1844), one of the women transported to Van Diemen’s Land on the legendary convict ship Rajah in 1841.

Among the highlights of the paintings acquired during the reporting period are Yvonne East’s portrait of The Honourable Chief Justice Susan Kiefel ac, the High Court of Australia’s first female Chief Justice. This painting was a finalist for the 2018 Archibald Prize and was acquired by gift of the artist in 2019. Under the Commonwealth Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, the Gallery acquired a portrait of jockey Shane Dye by Noel McKenna. This large painting is executed in McKenna’s characteristically playful and distinctive style.

In May 2020, the Gallery launched its inaugural Annual Appeal, an initiative to support the acquisition of key works for the Collection going forward. On this occasion, the Appeal enabled the Gallery to purchase Sally Robinson’s portrait of the multiple-award-winning and prolific Australian writer Tim Winton. This painting was shortlisted for the inaugural Darling Portrait Prize and will join Robinson’s portraits of cricketer Glenn McGrath and rocker Angry Anderson in the national portrait collection.

As always, photographic portraits accounted for a significant proportion of acquisitions, and the Collection has been enhanced by some particularly fine and desirable examples in the past 12 months. Recent additions to the Gallery’s photographic holdings include a selection of cartes de visite depicting Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children, photographed at Buckingham Palace in 1860 by the English photographer John Jabez Edwin Mayall. These diminutive albumen paper photographs are not only outstanding examples of the carte de visite format, but indeed are from the series which is credited with popularising photography throughout the English-speaking world – and consequently earning Queen Victoria the reputation as the world’s ‘first media monarch.’

The 2019 exhibition Women in Vogue: Celebrating 60 years in Australia resulted in the acquisition by outright gift of four photographs of the Sudanese-Australian supermodel and refugee advocate Adut Akech Bior, by Charles Dennington; and a pair of striking photographs by Nicole Bentley of pop princess Kylie Minogue – a permanent fixture on the Gallery’s wish-list of sitters. Photographs depicting dual international sport star Ellyse Perry by Stuart Miller and rugby league legend Artie Beetson by Ern McQuillan also came into the collection in early 2020. Rounding off the selection of outstanding photographic portraits were George Fetting’s bold, large-scale photograph of late Adam Cullen, taken in the late artist’s studio; a portrait of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tillman Ruff by Nikki Toole; and two poignant images by Tony Amos of a young Heath Ledger, photographed in New York in 1998.

Pages 79 to 83 lists all acquisitions made during the year.


Commissioning portraits enables the Gallery to target significant subjects during their lifetimes and/or at the full flourish of their careers, and to acquire works by particular Australian artists, including artists not usually working in the field of portraiture.

In 2019-20 two new portraits were commissioned. A combined portrait of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AC by artist Raelene Sharp is underway, recognising the contribution Mr and Mrs Besen have made to Australia through their philanthropic activity. Artist Vincent Fantauzzo has been commissioned to paint a portrait of renowned actor Hugh Jackman AC to reflect his international stage and screen career.

The completion of both commissions has been affected by the overwhelming impact of covid-19, resulting in the presentation of the portraits being delayed until the 2020-21 year.

The Gallery invited prominent Australians who have achieved excellence in their respective fields of endeavour were and matched them with artists to create distinctive contemporary portraits. For each portrait, an artist was invited whose creative insight promised a stimulating, thoughtful engagement with their portrait subject. The significant support of donors assisted the realisation of these portraits.

Sitters included: Mal Meninga am, Margaret Seares AO, Jacki Weaver AO, Li Cunxin, David Foster OAM, Andrew Gaze AM, Peter Goldsworthy AM, Fred Hilmer AO, Catherine Livingstone AO, Jessica Mauboy, Tim Fairfax AC, Tan Le, Anna Meares OAM, Nicholas Paspaley Jnr AC, Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG, Tony Shaw AM, Michelle Simmons AO, Gail Kelly, Louis Nowra, and Richard Tognetti AO. This was a highly significant commissioning event for the Gallery.

Collection storage and display

The Gallery undertakes to preserve and care for the National Portrait Collection. All collection storage and display areas are maintained with stable air temperature and stable relative humidity, reducing the risk of deterioration. Display light levels are maintained at appropriate levels to minimise the risk of light-sensitive works of art fading. Additional preservation measures are undertaken by using inert or archival materials in the storage facility, and through the continued implementation of the Gallery’s integrated pest management program.

Staff also completed a 100 per cent audit of the painting store checking locations for all works stored in this area.


As of 30 June 2020, 99.6 per cent of the Gallery’s Collection has been digitised, meaning a digital (electronic) image of these artworks is available in either low or high-resolution format. 79.7 per cent of the collection has been digitised in high-resolution, with these images suitable for a broad range of publishing and preservation purposes. The Gallery set a target of 80 per cent high-resolution digitisation of the collection by 30 June 2020, and this target was met in spite of changes enforced by the covid-19 pandemic. In response to the crisis, the Gallery diverted resources to prioritise making new and existing material more accessible/deliverable to the public, incorporating multiple digital formats. This has included:

  • virtual tours of the collection;
  • online exhibitions;
  • filming video portrait stories;
  • working with artists on printing exhibition artworks; and
  • printing exhibition-related material,

in addition to images of newly acquired collection items.

Overseas engagements

The Gallery was involved with three international cultural institutions over the course of the year. Two works of art were returned to the National Portrait Gallery Scotland after a 20-year loan, and the National Portrait Gallery Washington was to loan the portrait Emily Kame Kngwarreye with Lily by Jenny Sages. Unfortunately, this outward loan was not able to move forward due to covid-19 restrictions.

Prior to the closure of international borders, the Gallery was greatly invested in working with the National Portrait Gallery in the United Kingdom to be the first international venue to host Love Stories. This major exhibition was to feature portraits of some of the world’s best- known couples from the sixteenth century to the present day. While disappointing that covid-19 caused the indefinite postponement of this electrifying exhibition, the work done has nurtured the already positive working relationship we have with our UK counterpart.

Outward loans 2019–20

A total of 37 works from the collection were loaned to public, regional and state galleries, and universities for exhibition purposes in addition to works of art in travelling exhibitions.

  • One painting of Brian Loton AC by Brian Dunlop to Trinity College, Melbourne University for exhibition in a display of alumni portraits (1 July 2004 to 30 June 2021).
  • Two works of art to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria for the exhibition Hans and Nora Heysen: Two Generations of Australian Art (8 March 2019 to 28 July 2019). Two paintings by Nora Heysen, a self-portrait and portrait of Robert H Black MD.
  • One painting titled Norman Hetherington OAM (and friends) by artist Kate Rae to the Royal Australian Mint, Canberra, ACT for the exhibition Mr Squiggle the Man from the Moon: Celebrating the 60th anniversary of Mr Squiggle and his creator Norman Hetherington
    (1 March 2019 to 28 July 2019).
  • Seven works of art to the Tamworth Regional Gallery, Tamworth, New South Wales for the exhibition, The view from 1919, a centenary of the Tamworth Regional Gallery collection
    1 June 2019 to 28 July 2019). Photograph of Norman Lindsay by Harold Cazneaux; self-portrait drawing by Hilda Rix Nicholas titled Hilda in the Chinoise hat; self-portrait lithograph print by Thea Proctor; Portrait of Elioth Gruner, drawing by Norman Lindsay; self-portrait print by Lionel Lindsay titled The Jester; drawing by George Lambert of Henry Fullwood (Uncle Remus); caricature drawing of Norman Lindsay by Boz.
  • One painting of Sir Charles Court and Richard Court by Mary Moore to the Parliament of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia for display in the Speaker’s corridor (29 April 2019 to 30 June 2021).
  • Three works of art to the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane, Queensland for the exhibition Margaret Olley – A Generous Life (15 June 2019 to 13 October 2019). Two photographs of Margaret Olley ac by Lewis Morley and Greg Weight, and one drawing, Head study for portrait of Margaret Olley by Jeffrey Smart.
  • Three works of art to the Cairns Regional Gallery, Cairns, Queensland for the exhibition Queen’s Land: Blak Portraiture – late 19th century to the present (17 May 2019 to 11 August 2019). Two photographs by Michael Riley from the portfolio Michael Riley Portraits 1984-1990 of Tracey Moffatt ao and Delores Scott. Photograph of Clinton Nain by Penny Tweedie.
  • Two works of art to The Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, for the exhibition William Bligh – hero or villain (25 July 2019 to 2 February 2020). Painting of William Bligh by John Webber and the engraving Mutiny on the Bounty (The Mutineers turning Lieutenant Bligh and part of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty’s Ship the Bounty) by Robert Dodd.
  • One painting of Peter Elliott by Jon Molvig to the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG), Brisbane, Queensland for the exhibition Jon Molvig: Maverick (14 September 2019 to 2 February 2020).
  • One watercolour titled An evening at Yarra Cottage, Port Stephens to Sydney Living Museums, Sydney, New South Wales, for the exhibition Songs of Home and Distant Isles (10 August 2019 to 17 November 2019).
  • Two works of art to The Australian War Memorial, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, for the exhibition The Courage for Peace (18 October 2019 to 30 June 2020). The painting General Cosgrove, Dili, East Timor 1999 by Rick Amor and a photographic image on a glazed ceramic tile titled Portrait of Mr W. M. Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia by J. H. Barratt & Co. Ltd, Stoke-on-Trent.
  • Two works to the Parliament of Australia, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, for the exhibition Alfred Deakin: Creating a Nation (7 October 2019 to 2 February 2020). Pen and ink drawing titled Mr Barton “Overworked” by Livingston Hopkins and a chromolithograph titled “Australia” (Alfred Deakin) (Image plate from Vanity Fair) by Sir Leslie Ward.
  • Six works to Newcastle Art Gallery, New South Wales, for the exhibition Between two worlds (16 November 2019 to 16 February 2020). Pencil and chalk drawing Untitled (preparatory study for a sculpture of Dr John Yu); photograph of Dadang Christanto by Hari Ho; painting Emily Kame Kngwarreye with Lily by Jenny Sages; photograph of Judy Davis by William Yang; photograph of Patrick White by William Yang; painting “Lao Fei” Stephen FitzGerald by Dalu Zhao.
  • Three works to The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, for the exhibition Hugh Ramsay (30 November 2019 to 29 March 2020). Three paintings by Hugh Ramsay, Portrait of Ambrose Patterson, Self portrait (Full Length in front of Easel), and portrait sketch of Nellie Melba.
  • Two works to The National Trust NSW – S.H.Ervin Gallery, Sydney, New South Wales for the exhibition Margaret’s Gifts (4 January 2020 to 22 March 2020). Paintings, Self portrait by Barry Humphries and Self portrait by Jeffrey Smart.

The Gallery undertakes conservation treatment of collection works to reduce the risk of deterioration, to ensure long-term preservation, and to enhance their display.

A total of 246 collection works were condition- checked as part of the ongoing management of artworks on loan, in travelling exhibitions, and new to the collection. Nine collection works underwent conservation treatment to maintain and enhance their material integrity.

Gallery staff develop and maintain professional collegiate relationships with peers in other cultural institutions on an ongoing basis, facilitating the sharing of information, and assisting research on the collection and exhibition projects.