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Peter Weiss, 2016

by Nicholas Harding

oil on linen
155 x 102 cm
Collection of Nicholas Harding and Lynne Watkins

Peter Weiss AO (b. 1935), cultural benefactor, was born into a well-to-do family in Vienna, from which they fled in the late 1930s. In cramped quarters in Sydney, his mother baked cakes and stitched delicate garments while his father went to work for an apron manufacturer. Meanwhile, they took care to expose the young Weiss to what culture there was in the city. He learned the cello, graduating from the Conservatorium. Having moved to London to further his studies, he gave up the instrument. On return to Sydney he became a successful garment salesman, inching, at home and by night, into manufacturing. In 1975 he and his then-wife Adele launched a pioneering line of separates. They quickly became successful, and remained so over the 1980s, but they divorced in 1990, and in 1997 Weiss gladly renounced the fashion business. Through the 1990s he sponsored concerts at St James’s Church in Sydney. He was one of the early sponsors of a ‘chair’ in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the founding president of the Maestro Circle in 2009. His gift of a million dollars established the Instrument Fund of the Australian Chamber Orchestra; in 2016, he bought a 1729 Guarneri cello for the company. He purchased Peter Sculthorpe’s house from the composer’s estate and regularly hosts music events in its studio. Hee has made very significant donations to the Opera House. Weiss was among the first members of the Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation when it was established in 1983 and was made a life governor of the gallery in 2009. Recently he purchased a huge sculpture for the institution.

Harding has painted Weiss in the colours of his many paintings of peonies, looking like a jaded old king about to start up with a roar.

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