We went to the Australian National Portrait Gallery while in Canberra in March. There were two two exhibitions on show. The first was of finalists in the inaugural, 2020 Darling Portrait Prize sponsored by the Australian National Portrait Gallery. The prize is named after L. Gordon Darling, the Founding Patron of the Gallery and the winner receives $75,000. You can see all of the paintings on show on the Gallery’s website here.

They are much better than the photos I took on the day we visited, but here are a few that I especially liked.

Elizabeth 2019 by Anthea da Silva was the winner, announced on 5 March 2020. I like it a lot. The subject is Elizabeth Cameron Dalman who has been described as the high priestess of Australian contemporary dance. The fluidity in the painting gives a strong sense of movement and I loved the muted colours.

These are my other favourites; the first three are all close up portraits of young women. The fourth is something out of left field for a portrait prize.

This is, Kimberley and Noam Chomsky by Jordan Richardson. Kimberley is the artist’s wife and muse. He says: The image is inspired by northern Renaissance portraiture, particularly that of Holbein. I liked the formality, the colours and the expressions on both the woman and the cat!

This is The Lady of Shalott by Colleen Stapleton. The subject, Madeleine, reminded the artist of John William Waterhouse paintings – he did three of the Lady of Shalott, one of which is in the Tate. The pale skin and copper coloured hair make this portrait quite striking; but this is a distinctly modern Lady of Shalott.

This is Erica by Ben Bickley. You can see the similarity between these three paintings.

This one is different. It’s My life la Gilbun by Shirley Purdie. It depicts the hospital where she was born and herself and the station manager’s wife who was good to her.

The second exhibition was of finalists in the 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize also sponsored by the Gallery. You can see all of the photographs on display on the Gallery’s website here

The winner hadn’t been announced when we were there but I was quite glad The mahi-mahi by Rob Palmer won. This is the chef Josh Niland who runs the famous fish restaurant in Sydney Saint Peter.

I also really liked Paul’s smile by Nic Duncan who took this in a pub at Marble Bar. It is a very heartwarming smile.

Joe thought Yukultji and Yalti with their family by Ben Mcnamara should have won.This is a portrait of ‘the Pintupi Nine’, believed to be the last Indigenous Australians to come into contact with the ‘outside’ world following European settlement … when they came to media attention in October 1984. The photo was taken in a salt lake on the WA / NT border.

I was also taken with Letting go by Marg Briese. This is a picture of her father watching the sale of his cattle after years battling devastating drought. I think she has captured the emotion he was feeling really well.

It was really hard to photograph these photographs, so I didn’t take many. But if you look on the link to the Gallery website above, both Joe and I really liked Jarrah by Charles Tambiah for the beautiful light and dramatic framing. I also liked portraits of Bruce Pascoe, (Farmer, fisher, scholar and scribe by Andrew Baker) and Adam Goodes (by James Brikwood).

Then we went back to the National Gallery of Australia to check out some old favourites and other offerings in the Gallery’s permanent collection.

I love John Olsen paintings and his Sydney sun is just wonderful; so exuberant, cheerful, life affirming! He painted it in 1965 after being dazzled by the early morning sunlight over Sydney Harbour, having returned from living in Europe for several years.

Brett Whitely is known for his blue paintings, and indeed it is a glorious blue as seen here in Christie and Hectorina MacLennan painted in 1964-65.

But I really like this beautiful apricot coloured picture, Interior with time past. It depicts his studio in Sydney and was painted in 1978.

And I like to check out the Ian Fairweather whenever we come. This is a terrible picture of Turtle and temple gong but it’s a great work, painted on Bribie Island in 1965 recalling time spent in Bali in 1933. I think Fairweather was one of the artists Patrick White had in mind when he wrote The Vivisector.

The green parasol painted by E. Phillips Fox in Paris in 1912 is a beautiful painting. Beautiful colour, so contemplative.

Moving on to the NGA’s international works Blue Poles looked better than I remembered it. I think it is in a better place and better lit. Still packs a punch. It was bought in the first year of the new Labor Government (1973) – what panache; thank you Gough!

It’s nice to see Lee Krasner was recognised here in Australia relatively early. Her Cool white was bought by the NGA in 1978.

I really like this cheerful Mark Rothco, Multiform. Lovely colours and a happy feel to it, unlike lots of his work.

I wasn’t familiar with Pre-dawn by Hans Hofmann, but it’s colour is also joyful.

There was a lovely display of art deco lamps. I didn’t take in the who, what and why of this display, but it was quite lovely.

Here’s a close up of one of them.

We were delighted to find an installation by Yayoi Kusama; The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens. The artist invites viewers to immerse themselves in her world, to participate in an experience of both claustrophobic and infinite space, and a round trip from the microscopic into the cosmic. You enter a romm and encounter this.

Then you climb some steps and look through a small window and see this – if you look closely you can see my face, partially hidden by my phone which is taking the photo.

An immersive experience indeed. She did it in 2017 and it’s now on permanent display.

Over the few days we were in Canberra we indulged in some other cultural activities. This is as close as we got to the War Memorial; when we parked our car nearby. There are so many war-related memorials in Canberra these days it sometimes seems the whole place is a shrine to war – which is not a good thing. Nor is the proposed expansion of this place.

We were nearby because we were embarking on the Mount Ainslie Walk a cultural institution for both Canberrans and visitors. Here are Joe and Patrick about to commence.

It was a relatively short walk but required a bit of effort. It was as busy as all get out with lots of people going up and lots coming down. We saw some kangaroos through the scrub.

I was able to do the climb pretty comfortably but was quite pleased to get to the top.

The view at the top is pretty spectacular. Here is the traditional shot looking down to Parliament House. You can see we had a good day for it.

We had lunch in the National Library. The food is always good. I was disappointed the only exhibition was one about fishing so we didn’t explore it. But I do love the Leonard French windows. Here’s one of the ones in the cafe beautifully lit on a lovely sunny day.

We had some Notable Meals – which in my view are cultural activities. Even the casual lunch at Edgars in Ainslie after our walk which Patrick and Joe are waiting for here.

And including partaking of Canberrans usual haunts; Môcan & Green Grout, The Cupping Room, Intra Specialty Coffee and Rebel Rebel and even noodles for dinner atAsian Noodle House.

Meals at Monster in the Ovolo Nishi and at Italian and Sons are becoming must-dos for us whenever we visit. But our best meal this time was at Pilot where we celebrated my birthday. Here are Joe and I enjoying the ambience in what is a very small space.

And here’s the menu, including the matching wines on the right and non-alcoholic drinks on the left written in hand by one of the very friendly and obliging staff members.

The names of the dishes served seem to be deliberately misleading. The chicken rissoles were amazing and the fish curry nothing like an ordinary dish so named. Each of the little snacks at the start – I think there were four – were taste sensations. The Ravensworth white vermouth was a revelation – its going into our drinks cabinet as soon as we can find it. A great night out. It’s heartbreaking that this great restaurant has now been closed due to Covid-19. I hope they can come back.

Our final cultural event in Canberra was the Tram Trip to Gunghalin. It’s the latest tourist attraction! I’m pretty sure there were some other visitors along for the ride. The tram is very modern. It includes devices to hold bikes – very user friendly. It was easy getting the day ticket and we didn’t have to wait long at either end. The trip to the end was further than I expected. You pass the Canberra race-course and the warehouse holding the overflow from the NGA collection. There were people getting on and off at each stop albeit not very many but we were well outside peak hour. Patrick gets this to work every day – but from well within the city boundaries. We seemed quite a long way outside of them by the time we got to Gunghalin. Here I am at the start.

The Le Bon Mélange cafe was recommended as a good place for coffee by one of Patrick’s colleagues and so it turned out. Look at these great pastries. And the coffee was good too.

Canberra is a great place to visit. I’m very pleased we managed to get there before the big Covid-19 close down. And I look forward to lots more visits in future.


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