Skip to main content

To help keep our visitors and staff safe, please book your spot before visiting.

Menu

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.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Professor Penny Sackett, astronomer and physicist

2011
Andrew Mezei

oil on linen (frame: 114.4 cm x 84.4 cm, support: 106.7 cm x 76.0 cm)

Penny Sackett (b. 1956), physicist, astronomer and former Chief Scientist for Australia, gained her PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2002 she was appointed director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University. Responsible for the Mount Stromlo Observatory, she had to endure its destruction by bushfires in January 2003, and negotiations for the insurance payout and rebuilding of the heritage-listed facility. Sackett was one of an international team of 73 astronomers who discovered the first known earth-sized planet orbiting a normal star other than the Sun in the inner Milky Way in 2006. Appointed the Chief Scientist for Australia in late 2008, Sackett remained an adjunct professor at ANU and continued to supervise research students. She resigned as Chief Scientist in 2011, announcing that she intended to contribute to science in other ways.

Entering this portrait in the Archibald Prize for 2011, Andrew Mezei said that he aspired to paint Sackett after hearing her speak on the radio. He wrote: 'She responded to scepticism about climate change with eloquent reasoning … I wanted to show her femininity as perfectly compatible with her impeccable focus on facts.' The setting is imagined, though informed by various images of Mount Stromlo Observatory.

Purchased 2012
© Andrew Mezei

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

Andrew Mezei (age 48 in 2011)

Penny Sackett (age 55 in 2011)

Subject professions

Science and technology

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Penny Sackett

From Earth to Sky

Portrait story

Professor Penny Sackett, Australian National University and former Chief Scientist for Australia (2008-2011) talks about her life in science.

Penny Sackett and Andrew Mezei

From Earth to Sky

Portrait story

Professor Penny Sackett and artist Andrew Mezei describe the process behind making the portrait.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency