National Portrait Gallery (Australia)

The National Portrait Gallery in Australia is a collection of portraits of prominent Australians that are important in their field of endeavour or whose life sets them apart as an individual of long-term public interest. The collection was established in May 1998, and until 2008 was housed in Old Parliament House and in a nearby gallery on Commonwealth Place. On 4 December 2008, its permanent home opened on King Edward Terrace, Canberra beside the High Court of Australia.

National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery building
National Portrait Gallery (Australia) (Australia)
Former nameNational Library of Australia, Old Parliament House
EstablishedMay 1998 (1998-05)
LocationKing Edward Terrace, Parkes, Australian Capital Territory
Coordinates35.3°S 149.133889°E / -35.3; 149.133889
TypePortrait gallery
DirectorAngus Trumble
CuratorDr Christopher Chapman
ArchitectJohnson Pilton Walker
Public transit accessAction buses


In the early 1900s, the painter Tom Roberts was the first to propose that Australia should have a national portrait gallery, but it was not until the 1990s that the possibility began to take shape.

The 1992 exhibition Uncommon Australians – developed by the Gallery's founding patrons, Gordon and Marilyn Darling – was shown in Canberra and toured to four state galleries, igniting the idea of a national portrait gallery. In 1994, under the management of the National Library of Australia, the Gallery's first exhibition was launched in Old Parliament House. It was a further four years before the appointment of Andrew Sayers as Director signalled the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery as an institution in its own right, with a board, a budget and a brief to develop its own collection. The opening of displays in the refurbished Parliamentary Library and two adjacent wings of Old Parliament House in 1999 endorsed the Gallery's status and arrival as an independent institution.

While the spaces of Old Parliament House proved adaptable to the National Portrait Gallery's programs, its growing profile and collection necessitated the move to a dedicated building. Funding for the $87 million building was provided in the 2005 Federal Budget and Sydney-based architectural firm Johnson Pilton Walker was awarded the job of creating the gallery, with construction commencing in December 2006. The new National Portrait Gallery opened to the public on 4 December 2008.[2]

The building

Won through an open international design competition by Johnson Pilton Walker in 2005, the 14,000 square metres (150,000 sq ft) building provides exhibition space for approximately 500 portraits in a simple configuration of day-lit galleries.

The external form of the building responds to its site by using the building’s geometry to connect with key vistas and alignments around the precinct. A series of five bays, each more than 70 metres (230 ft) long, are arranged perpendicular to the Land Axis referring to Walter Burley Griffin’s early concepts for the National Capital.

National Portrait Gallery is a sequence of spaces leading from the Entrance Court defined by the two large cantilever concrete blades on the eastern side of the building, through the foyer to the gallery spaces. Each gallery receives controlled natural light from translucent glazed clerestory windows and views to the outside.

In April 2019, the building was closed for six months for repairs as it was showing signs of wear and tear due to the high foot-traffic of 500,000 visitors annually.[3]

Previous exhibitions

Some of the temporary exhibitions displayed at the National Portrait Gallery include:


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