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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.

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Professor Derek Denton

2009
Janet Dawson

pastel on paper (sheet: 46.5 cm x 40.0 cm)

Emeritus Professor Derek Denton AC (1924-2022), physiologist, was born in Launceston and graduated in medicine from the University of Melbourne in 1947. What became a pre-eminent career as a research physiologist commenced with a new discovery on kidney function in 1948, when he was appointed to the Walter and Eliza Hall Research Institute. As a Research Fellow with the National Health and Medical Research Council he set up the Ionic Research Unit in the University of Melbourne's Department of Physiology in 1949. Between 1964 and 1970 he headed up the Howard Florey Laboratories of Experimental Physiology; and from 1971 he was founding director of the Howard Florey Institute, which became one of the world's leading medical research facilities under his leadership. Recognised internationally as an authority on the regulation of salt and water metabolism – he explained the mechanism of thirst – Denton was elected to a host of the most distinguished academies and societies worldwide, including the Royal Society, the Royal College of Physicians, the National Academy of Science (USA) and the French Academy of Sciences. He was a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences and of Trinity College, University of Melbourne; and from 1978 until 1990 he was a member of the jury of the Lasker Prize, one of the world's major scientific awards. Throughout his career Denton was interested principally in genetic and learned instinctive behaviour, and how genetically determined mechanisms are regulated by chemical and hormonal changes in the body and brain; later, he turned to philosophical reflections on consciousness. His books include The Hunger for Salt (1983) and The Primordial Emotions (2005, 2006).

Artist Janet Dawson painted an oil portrait of Derek Denton, which has been on display at the Royal Society's Carlton House Terrace since 2010. This drawing is similar in appearance. Both portraits are drawn from photographs and the artist's memories and show Denton as he was in the late 1960s, when he and his wife Margaret Scott, a leading ballerina, were part of a circle that included Dawson and other artists.

Gift of Professor Derek Denton AC and Dame Margaret Scott AC 2014. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.
© Janet Dawson/Copyright Agency, 2022

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

Janet Dawson (age 74 in 2009)

Emeritus Professor Derek Denton AC (age 85 in 2009)

Subject professions

Science and technology

Donated by

Emeritus Professor Derek Denton AC (2 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.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency