1 November 2013 – 10 March 2014
Judy Cassab AO CBE (b. 1920) is one of Australia’s best-loved, most successful and prolific portrait painters. Since arriving in Sydney from Europe in 1951, she has created numerous portraits - those commissioned by corporate leaders and social luminaries along with personal and intimate portrayals of family and friends - which collectively have resulted in a distinct and comprehensive record of Australian society and culture throughout the second half of the 20th century. The artist's diary profiles six decades of Cassab's work, from the early portrait commissions of the 1950s to later paintings that have helped confirm her eminent place in the canon of Australian portraiture.
Born in Vienna to Hungarian parents, she studied at the Academy of Art in Prague in the late 1930s; and in Budapest in the early years of the Second World War. During this time, her husband, Jancsi Kampfner, whom she married in 1939, was interned in forced labour camps in Poland and Russia. Cassab remained in Budapest, working in a factory and assuming a false identity in order to escape the persecution of Jews. After the war, she and Jancsi came to Australia with their two sons, arriving in Sydney in 1951. The following year, her painting of writer and radio personality, Dorothy (Andrea) Jenner, was among 83 entries selected for the Archibald Prize; and in 1953, she held her first Australian solo exhibition at Sydney’s Macquarie Galleries. The winner of the Women’s Weekly Portrait Prize in 1955 and 1956, she won the Archibald Prizes for 1960 and 1967 with her paintings of artists Stan Rapotec and Margo Lewers, these and her other works representing a shift from conventional portrait modes to those embracing expressionism, colour and abstraction. By the end of the 1960s she was highly sought after as a portraitist and had also become a successful landscape painter. In all, she has had 40 paintings exhibited in the Archibald Prize and since 1952 has completed numerous portrait commissions in Australia and overseas.
Judy Cassab was twelve years old when she created her first portrait and when she first started keeping a diary. While the diaries covering the early period of her life are now lost, those from 1944 onwards are still extant, preserving – along with her extraordinary personal story – her observations about many of her sitters and her work as a portraitist. Similarly, Cassab’s portraits – whether formally commissioned or painted for reasons of family and friendship – have resulted in a rich, distinct and vivid record of Australian society and culture across six decades of change.
Now in her 93rd year, on the 60th anniversary of her first Australian exhibition, many institutions are participating in a tribute to Judy Cassab’s life and work - National Portrait Gallery, Eva Breuer Art Dealer, the Art Gallery of NSW, National Library, Sydney Opera House, Macquarie University, University of Sydney, Sydney Town Hall, Woollahra Public Art Trust, Sydney Jewish Museum, St Vincent’s Hospital, Wesley College and Mossgreen Gallery Melbourne.