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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

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Study for John Bell as King Lear

1998-2001
Nicholas Harding (artist)

ink, charcoal and conté on paper (frame: 56.8 cm x 45.8 cm, sheet: 43.9 cm x 33.5 cm)

John Bell AO OBE (b. 1940) is Australia's preeminent Shakespearean actor and director. Having graduated from the University of Sydney in 1962, he spent five years at the Royal Shakespeare Company in England before returning home and co-founding Sydney's Nimrod Theatre. Nimrod staged premieres and influential interpretations of many Australian plays in the 1970s and 1980s and also initiated a distinctively Australian Shakespeare style. In 1990 he founded the Bell Shakespeare Company, which has set the standard for Australian performances of the playwright’s works ever since. Bell acted for the company in the roles of Shylock, Macbeth, Henry V, Titus Andronicus, Malvolio, Coriolanus, Richard III, Leontes, Prospero and King Lear – several of them over different productions, many years apart.

Nicholas Harding was at the Company's first productions and conceived of a painting of Bell as he watched him in The Merchant of Venice in a stifling tent in 1991. Over the course of a decade he made several portraits of the actor. This 'study', to which Harding returned repeatedly, evolved alongside the much bigger John Bell as King Lear, which won Harding the Archibald Prize in 2001.

Gift of the artist 2010. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.
© Nicholas Harding

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Nicholas Harding (age 42 in 1998)

John Bell AO OBE (age 58 in 1998)

Subject professions

Performing arts

Donated by

Nicholas Harding (3 portraits)

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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