National Portrait Gallery, Canberra: The Companion

What a great choice I made at Wollongong Library on Monday: The Companion.


The cover is a detail from Evert Ploeg, “Deborah Mailman 1999”. The book features hundreds of portraits with fine textual notes about subjects and artists. I haven’t actually visited the National Portrait Gallery but will now if ever I should be in Canberra again.

Of so many I chose three:


That is NSW Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane (1773-1860) portrayed (1842) by engraver Frederick Bromley, based on a painting in a private collection in Scotland. The text draws particular attention to Brisbane’s scientific pursuits. I choose it because this is the governor who granted my convict ancestor Jacob Whitfield permission to bring his family out from Ireland.


This remarkable painting of Justice Michael Kirby (1998) is by Ralph Heimans – whose young brother Jeremy, cofounder of GetUp, I taught at Sydney Boys High. Remarkable family.

Finally, and rather self-indulgently, I feature a portrait I have seen before, part of an exhibition currently at the Portrait Gallery.

Bare: Degrees of undress celebrates the candid, contrived, natural, sexy, ironic, beautiful, and fascinating in Australian portraiture that shows a bit of skin. Bare selects and remixes portraits from our collection around elements of nakedness. Fun and forthright, the exhibition will interrogate our instinctive, embedded and complex reactions to the bare. Surprising relationships appear, including portraits of Australia’s greatest sportspeople and our foremost creative achievers.


Ian Thorpe (2002) by James Houston.