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Announcing…. Inaugural International Winter Blockbuster exhibition Love Stories

Tuesday 10 December, 2019

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, 30 May 1937 by an unknown photographer
Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, 30 May 1937 by an unknown photographer

An exhibition of real-life love stories from the London’s revered National Portrait Gallery will be the first International Winter Blockbuster exhibition to be launched at the National Portrait Gallery, Australia in 2020.

An Australian exclusive, Love Stories will open in June next year, and will include portraits of some of the world’s best-known couples from the sixteenth century through to the present day – from John Donne, King Charles II and his mistress Barbara Palmer, Venetia Digby, Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas, to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and David and Victoria Beckham.  
 
National Portrait Gallery Director Karen Quinlan AM, said the exhibition was a fantastic collaboration between two of the world’s great portrait galleries and the first in an ambitious new annual program that celebrates portraiture in all its forms.  

“Portraiture has always been closely connected to the notion of love and desire, from highly staged marriage portraits of the 16th century through to contemporary wedding photos.  This stunning exhibition, covering five centuries of art, highlights the multi-faceted and often complex nature of love, and how the social mores around love have changed through time,” she said.  

At the heart of the exhibition is a series of real-love stories, grouped thematically.  Various aspects of romantic love are explored – and the role of portraits within it – from images which capture an artists’ obsession with their muse, to those that record tragedy, or celebrate the triumph of love against the odds

Ms Quinlan said it was an incredible honour to be able to show this stunning collection in Australia, alongside a specially curated exhibition of Australian love-stories.

“We’re thrilled to be able to complement these works from London with an exhibition of Australian love-stories, each depicting passion, friendship, family, community and connection,” she said.  

The Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, Nicholas Cullinan, said: “It is wonderful to be collaborating with our peer institution in Australia to present the world premiere of Love Stories in Canberra. Portraits are about personal stories and the exhibition explores and celebrates portraiture as an expression of the universal desire to love and be loved. At once moving and compelling, these stories resonate across time, recording and memorialising love as a defining aspect of the human experience. I am delighted that the exhibition will be accompanied by a special selection of Australian love stories, including newly commissioned portraits”.

Revealing love as a constant and defining element of the human experience, Love Stories features:

  • Portraits of some of the world’s most recognized couples including Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Yoko Ono and John Lennon, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall, and Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex
  • Great literary love partnerships including Gertrude Stein and Alice B.Toklas, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb, and Mary and Percy Shelley
  • Historic masterpieces, notably Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s portrait of Venetia, Lady Digby (c 1633-1634) and her husband Sir Kenelm Digby.
  • Works by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Cecil Beaton, Annie Leibowitz, Man Ray, David Hockney, Patrick Lichfield amongst many others

In addition, several new photographs depicting high-profile Australian love stories will be commissioned especially for the exhibition.

Love Stories will be officially launched in Australia before an international tour, and is one of the first of the National Portrait Gallery London’s collection exhibitions to tour while the gallery is closed for three years to undergo a major renovation.  

Naturally, tickets to Love Stories will go on sale on 14th February 2020.

Love Stories, opening June 2020.  National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.

© National Portrait Gallery 2020
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia


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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Ngunnawal people, the traditional custodians of the land upon which the NPG stands.