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Equation of a life – a portrait of Derek Denton

9 September 2016

Equation of a life - a portrait of Professor Derek Denton, 2016 by Evert Ploeg
Equation of a life - a portrait of Professor Derek Denton, 2016 by Evert Ploeg

Last night, Sid Myer AM, President of the National Portrait Gallery’s Foundation and Angus Trumble, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, welcomed the newest portrait commission of Emeritus Professor Derek Denton AC by Evert Ploeg at an intimate gathering at Cranlana in Toorak, Melbourne into the Gallery’s collection.

The portrait was commissioned with funds from the Gallery’s Foundation and is a landmark addition to the National Collection, celebrating the point at which science and art intersect.

Artist Evert Ploeg was inspired by Denton’s commitment to and passion for science. The portrait places Denton behind a sheet of Perspex upon which the audience can see diagrams, notes, formulae and illustrations; depicting Denton immersed in his world.

Angus Trumble commented, “the Gallery is extraordinarily grateful for the generosity of donors who have made the acquisition of this portrait possible. It is only fitting that a great mind such as Professor Denton’s should be made forever accessible in the Collection via portraiture.”

Professor Denton is an internationally celebrated research physiologist with his study and theories focusing on consciousness in evolution.

Artist Evert Ploeg has painted several portraits represented in the Gallery’s Collection, including the much loved portraits of actress Deborah Mailman, art collector and philanthropist John Schaeffer and astronaut Paul Scully-Power.

This extraordinary portrait will be on display from 20 September at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.

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Derek Denton

Emeritus Professor Derek Denton AC (b. 1924), physiologist, is the world’s leading authority on the regulation of salt and water metabolism and relevant endocrine control mechanisms. Denton grew up in Launceston and graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1947. Over the next two years he was appointed to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and set up the Ionic Research Unit in the Department of Physiology at the University of Melbourne. In 1971 he became founding director of the Howard Florey Institute, which became one of the world’s top medical research institutes under his leadership. Renowned for having explained the mechanism of thirst, Denton was long interested in how genetically determined mechanisms are regulated by chemical and hormonal changes in the body and brain, but late in his career he turned to philosophical reflections on consciousness. He was elected a Foreign Medical Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1974, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences in 1979, an Honorary Foreign Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London in 1988, a Fellow of the Royal Society, London in 1999, and the French Academy of Sciences in 2003.

Evert Ploeg

Evert began his career as a fashion illustrator in the mid-1980s. He established his studio on Sydney’s northern beaches in 1990-1991, after which he travelled through Asia and Europe. His first solo show, Mask of Myth, was staged in Sydney in 1994. Ploeg received wide attention in 1997 when he attempted to enter the Archibald Prize with his portrait of the Bananas in Pyjamas, later purchased by the ABC. In 1998 he submitted a portrait of fashion identity, Peter Morrissey, which made the Salon des Refusés; his portrait of Deborah Mailman — now one of the most popular paintings in the National Portrait Gallery collection — won the People’s Choice Award in 1999, and his portrait of Jana Wendt won the Packing Room Prize in 2004.  In 2005 he won the Shirley Hannan Portrait Prize and gained an Exceptional Merit Award in the international competition of the Portrait Society of America.