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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.

Australia and the Nobel Prize

Previous exhibition from Friday 5 December 2003 until Sunday 15 February 2004

This unique exhibition will give an insight into the private lives, pursuits and work of all the Nobel laureates associated with Australia. The first exhibition of its kind, it will explore the often unknown men behind some of history's greatest achievements, the history and politics of the Nobel Prize as well as the contemporary ramifications of these achievements. Drawing from collections from around the world, the exhibition will put a face to some of the greatest minds from the past and present.

There is no simple answer to the question of how many Australian Nobel laureates there have been. Who's Who in Australia lists 12 'Nobel Prize winners in Australia '; the Nobel Foundation lists 6 laureates who held Australian citizenship when they won the prize. There are 16 men pictured in Australia and the Nobel Prize .

What makes an Australian laureate? Is it being born in Australia , being educated to tertiary level in Australia , living in Australia for some time or carrying out one's prize-winning work in Australia ? The uncertainty is not confined to this country. Anyone who wins a Nobel Prize is quickly claimed by the nations, states, universities, foundations, hospitals and schools with which he or she has been involved. The most famous Nobel prize-winner, Albert Einstein, was claimed by Germany as soon as he won the prize, although he was a Swiss citizen and had been educated in Switzerland ; he is now regularly described as German-American.

Being born in Australia is perhaps not enough in itself to make a winner an Australian Nobel laureate. For example, laser pioneer Aleksandr Prokhorov (Physics, 1964) was born in Queensland , but he left Australia as a seven-year-old and never returned. But the fact that someone was not born here can be quite irrelevant. Patrick White (Literature, 1973) was not born in Australia , he was not educated here, and he said that he did not feel particularly Australian - yet he won the prize 'for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent [ Australia ] into literature'.

A case may be made that education to a professional level in Australia confers an Australian style of approaching problems that persists through later life. It has been common for scientists to leave Australia to study in English universities. Australian born and educated John Cornforth (Chemistry, 1975), Howard Florey (Medicine, 1945) and Lawrence Bragg (Physics, 1915) each followed this path, but each retained an affection for, and perhaps the influence of, the education he received in his native country. William Bragg (Physics, 1915) and, to a lesser extent, Robert Robinson (Chemistry, 1947) can be said to have a significant Australian connection, as each left his mark on the Australian university at which he was employed.

Other Nobel Prize winners could not be claimed as 'true' Australian laureates, but have interesting associations with Australia , in some cases necessitated by international politics or historical developments. These include Bernard Katz (Medicine, 1970), John Harsanyi (Economics, 1994), José Ramos-Horta (Peace, 1996), Rolf Zinkernagel (Medicine, 1996) and John Coetzee (Literature, 2003). German émigré scientist Max Born (Physics, 1954) never lived in Australia , but his granddaughter was to become one of our most famous expatriates - Olivia Newton-John.

There are just three laureates who were born in Australia, educated to tertiary level here, and performed the work for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in this country. They are Macfarlane Burnet (Physiology or Medicine, 1960), John Eccles (Physiology or Medicine, 1963) and Peter Doherty (Physiology or Medicine, 1996).

Australia and the Nobel Prize has been generously supported by the Embassy of Sweden.

4 portraits

1Professor Peter Doherty, 2001 Rick Amor. 2Sir Macfarlane Burnet, 1960-61 William Dargie. 3Sir John Cornforth, 1993 (printed 2003) Nick Sinclair. 4Sir Bernard Katz, 1993 (printed 2003) Nick Sinclair.

Related people

Dr Sarah Engledow (curator)

Related information

Tea time, c.1898–1902 by Rupert Bunny (1864–1947)
Tea time, c.1898–1902 by Rupert Bunny (1864–1947)
Tea time, c.1898–1902 by Rupert Bunny (1864–1947)
Tea time, c.1898–1902 by Rupert Bunny (1864–1947)

Impressions

Painting light and life

Previous exhibition, 2011

Impressions: Painting light and life presents portraits by, and of, artists at the heart of Australian impressionism including Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin.

Wendy drunk 11pm, 1983 by Brett Whiteley
Wendy drunk 11pm, 1983 by Brett Whiteley
Wendy drunk 11pm, 1983 by Brett Whiteley
Wendy drunk 11pm, 1983 by Brett Whiteley

Idle Hours

Previous exhibition, 2009

Idle hours is an exhibition of luxurious beauty. Paintings, prints and drawings represent subjects in quiet moods and situations arranged according to the time of day they depict - reading, drawing, snoozing, bathing, sewing, gardening, sitting, looking, making love and spending tranquil time with companions. Works in the exhibition range from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present.

The rose, 1927
The rose, 1927
The rose, 1927
The rose, 1927

The World of Thea Proctor

Previous exhibition, 2005

The World of Thea Proctor is the Portrait Gallery's second major biographical exhibition - that is, the second exhibition to focus exclusively on the life and work of a single individual

Cate Blanchett, 2002 (printed 2004) Karin Catt
Cate Blanchett, 2002 (printed 2004) Karin Catt
Cate Blanchett, 2002 (printed 2004) Karin Catt
Cate Blanchett, 2002 (printed 2004) Karin Catt

Australians in Hollywood

Previous exhibition, 2003

Although perceived to be a recent phenomenon, the 'Aussie invasion' of Hollywood can actually be traced as far back as the early 1900s

We would like to thank our partners.
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Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia


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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.