On being established in 1998, the National Portrait Gallery, in a unique move for an Australian public museum, set about to make the commissioning of artworks an essential element of its collection-building strategy. Driven by a wish to acquire portraits of distinguished present-day Australians, by equally distinguished contemporary artists, the NPG’s commissioning program has to date brought about the creation of over forty works encompassing approaches as diverse as video and tapestry; and sitters whose professions range between entomology, philosophy, law and space exploration to music, sport, poetry and architecture.
Typically displayed in the Contemporary Gallery are many of the results of this program, such as the traditional oil on canvas depiction of Princess Mary of Denmark, by Jiawei Shen; Anne Zahalka’s backlit photographic portrait of founding patron Marilyn Darling AC; Ah Xian’s celadon ceramic bust of paediatrician Dr John Yu; Dame Elisabeth Murdoch by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop; and Howard Arkley’s iconic image of musician and writer Nick Cave, one of the very first works commissioned for the Collection.
Collection display galleries
The collection display includes a wide selection of portraits that tell extraordinary stories of encounter, exploration, independence, individuality and achievement in Australia. Visitors to the Gallery can follow the development of portraiture from oil painting to digital media.Entry is free.