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A gift from the heart

by Lauren Dalla, 1 June 2003

Lauren Dalla examines the life of Basil Bressler, the art patron responsible for one of the NPG's most important bequests.

In 2001 the National Portrait Gallery received one of its most significant and generous gifts. Not from a famous art patron but an average Australian citizen, Basil Philip Bressler of Sydney. Since that day, the Basil Bressler Bequest, as it has come to be known, has contributed an enormous amount to the establishment of our nation's portrait memory and now forms the heart of the Gallery's Gift and Bequest program.

Throughout his life Basil Bressler expressed a love of and an interest in the arts. After travelling to Europe in the 1950s, he settled in London, where he practiced his skill as a painter, alongside his professional career as a surveyor. As an artist, he earned himself the sobriquet 'The Australian Jackson Pollock' and exhibited his work in several shows, including one at Australian House, together with other artists who went on to become famous in the Australian art world.

However, through force of circumstance, Basil Bressler did not continue with his artistic career and instead turned to music as his creative outlet. A keen violinist, after moving to Hong Kong for work commitments, he joined the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, where he enjoyed many musically fulfilling years. In the 1980s Basil Bressler returned to Australia, where he worked at David Jones in Sydney whilst remaining actively involved in chamber music. After fully retiring in the early 1990s, he continued to play music until his untimely death of leukaemia on Australia Day 2000.

On the 23rd May 2001 the Basil Bressler Bequest was officially launched by the Honourable Justice Michael Kirby; a fitting tribute, as the Gallery's purchase of the Kirby portrait had been made possible through the Basil Bressler funds.

Since 2001 the Basil Bressler Bequest has enabled the National Portrait Gallery to purchase and commission many portraits of important Australians. The range and achievements of the subjects represented is immense -from musicians to writers, artists to sports stars.

To acknowledge both of his lifelong artistic loves, Basil Bressler also bequeathed his Leandro Bisiach violin to the Canberra School of Music, for the use of a talented violin student, a suitable gesture from a man who also pursued an active love of chamber music throughout his life

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