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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.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Buoyant Brack brood breeds inspiration

The happy chaos of the Brack household, with its four ‘ruffian’ daughters, provided father John Brack with an endless supply of creative inspiration.

1Self portrait, c. 1948 John Brack. © Helen Brack. 2The girls at school, 1959 John Brack. National Gallery of Australia, Bequest of Mrs Elizabeth Summons MBE 2015. © Helen Brack. 3First daughter, 1954 John Brack. National Gallery of Victoria. © Helen Brack. 4Second daughter, 1954 John Brack. National Gallery of Australia. © Helen Brack. 5Third daughter, 1954 John Brack. National Gallery of Australia. © Helen Brack. 6The baby drinking, 1955 John Brack. National Gallery of Australia. © Helen Brack.

John Brack and his wife, artist Helen Maudsley, had four daughters in the space of five years – Clara, Vicki, Freda and Charlotte – all of whom feature as subjects in Brack’s works. ‘The house was theirs, not ours’, noted Helen in a 2018 interview. Youngest Charlotte concurred in June 2020, calling the lively sibling gang ‘us ruffian kids’. Known for working predominantly in defined series, Brack’s oeuvre includes a rich seam of portraits of friends and family. As a figurative artist with a distinct focus on insightful explorations of the human condition, Brack found rich material in the family’s daily life. Each of these portraits offer an interesting tension: aesthetically the compositions are distant and documentary, yet in the attention lavished on the details – the humour and irony of the facial expressions or actions – intimacy and love are very much evident.

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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.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.