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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.

Dempsey's people

A folio of British street portraits 1824–1844

Previous exhibition
from Thursday 29 June until Sunday 22 October 2017
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey

This is the first exhibition to showcase the compelling watercolour images of English street people made by the itinerant English painter John Dempsey throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.

Featuring 52 rarely-seen portraits, the exhibition profiles the stories of town-criers, match-sellers, chimney-sweeps, street-food vendors, and numerous other characters populating the urban landscape of Regency-era and early Victorian Britain. Remarkable in their incisive realism and providing rare visual documentation of people otherwise overlooked by history, Dempsey’s portraits bring to life the fictional worlds of writers like Charles Dickens, presenting a vivid and distinctive survey of street people in British cities and towns. Similarly, the life and work of John Dempsey stands as representative of a substantial but uncelebrated layer of pictorial production in this era, a pre-photographic cultural infrastructure of journeyman oil painters, watercolourists, miniaturists, popular portraitists and cutters and painters of shades.

Curated by guest curator Dr David Hansen, Associate Professor with the Centre for Art History and Art Theory at the ANU, Dempsey’s people is accompanied by a full-colour, scholarly publication.

52 portraits

1 Billy the match man, Liverpool, 1844. 2 Pember of Bath,. 3 Crossing-sweeper, London,. 4 ‘Whistling Billy’ of York,. 5 Muffin man,. All by John Dempsey.

Related people

Dr David Hansen (curator)

Related information

Mary (or Diana) Croker, mat woman, Colchester, 1823 by John Dempsey
Mary (or Diana) Croker, mat woman, Colchester, 1823 by John Dempsey
Mary (or Diana) Croker, mat woman, Colchester, 1823 by John Dempsey
Mary (or Diana) Croker, mat woman, Colchester, 1823 by John Dempsey

Unknown drawer

Magazine article by Dr David Hansen, 2017

Dempsey’s People curator David Hansen chronicles a research tale replete with serendipity, adventure and Tasmanian tigers.

Selfie Factory, 2017 video: 3 minutes
Selfie Factory, 2017 video: 3 minutes
Selfie Factory, 2017 video: 3 minutes
Selfie Factory, 2017 video: 3 minutes

Digital Portraiture Award 2017

Previous exhibition, 2017

An annual event to extend traditional notions of portraiture and foster emerging artists with an interest in new technology.

Lovers And Luggers : Publicity Shot featuring Shirley Ann Richards Lloyd Hughes And Elaine Hamill (1937)
Lovers And Luggers : Publicity Shot featuring Shirley Ann Richards Lloyd Hughes And Elaine Hamill (1937)
Lovers And Luggers : Publicity Shot featuring Shirley Ann Richards Lloyd Hughes And Elaine Hamill (1937)
Lovers And Luggers : Publicity Shot featuring Shirley Ann Richards Lloyd Hughes And Elaine Hamill (1937)

Starstruck

Australian Movie Portraits

Previous exhibition, 2017

Striking, beautiful portraiture comes out of the most thoroughly documented creative process there is – filmmaking. In a ground-breaking collaboration the National Portrait Gallery and National Film and Sound Archive invite you into this captivating realm between real and fictional worlds. 

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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.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

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