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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.

The Whiteleys: passion, creation, destruction

As artist Garry Shead remarked of Brett Whitely, ‘Without Wendy there was no alchemy or magic. His talents diminished, dwindled without her.’

1 Brett Whiteley, 1974 Lewis Morley. © Lewis Morley Archive LLC. 2 Portrait of Wendy, 1984 Brett Whiteley. Private collection. © Wendy Whiteley.

Brett and Wendy Whiteley’s connection was profound, sensual and tempestuous, much like the artwork it inspired. First meeting as teenagers, Wendy became the archetypal muse – Brett’s lover, collaborator and creative conspirator through the course of his career. This 1984 portrait of Wendy by Brett is lush and lyrical, capturing some of the intensity of their relationship. In contrast, Brett was known for his critical, tormented self-portraits. While intense creative inspiration was a hallmark of the relationship, it was not enough to sustain it; the couple divorced in 1989. Brett’s heroin addiction played a pivotal role in the relationship’s ultimate demise, and, notoriously, it would lead to his eventual death through overdose in 1992.

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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.

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