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Edmund Capon AM OBE

1940 – 2019

Edmund Capon AM OBE (1940–2019), gallery director, commenced his museum career at a commercial gallery in London whilst a student at the Courtauld Institute of Art. In 1966, he began his career at the Victorian and Albert Museum. Having completed an MPhil in Chinese art and archaeology (including language) from London University’s Department of Oriental and African Studies, he was appointed assistant keeper in the Far Eastern Section of V&A in 1973. Acknowledged as a specialist in his field, he undertook three cultural tours to China between 1974 and 1978. It was during the first of these tours in Xian that he witnessed the initial diggings which revealed the entombed warriors. In 1976, he was commissioned by the Australia Council and Art Exhibitions Australia to write and publish a book, Art and Archeology in China. The book was an accompaniment to The Chinese Exhibition: a selection of recent archaeological finds of the People’s Republic of China which toured the state galleries of Victoria, NSW and South Australia in 1977. He was appointed Director of the Art Gallery of NSW in November 1978 for a three year term – the first internationally-trained art historian and curator to be appointed to the role. He held this position for 33 years, retiring at the end of 2011. During his tenure, Capon oversaw two significant building expansions, particularly regarding the Asian galleries. He clarified the relationship between the trustees and the professional staff, established a corporate foundation based upon the NGV model to fund purchases for the collection, oversaw significant collection development and curated many important exhibitions of Australian and international art. He also continued to research, write and publish, and produced a three-part TV series, Meishu – Travels in Chinese Art for the ABC and China Central TV. Within his first decade he more than doubled the Gallery’s annual attendance and was often criticised for his popularising of the gallery through his appearance in promotional advertisements. His major blockbuster, The Entombed Warriors (1983), broke all records, nationally, by recording over 800,000 paying attendees. Along with Australian and British honours, he gained French and Italian awards for his contribution to art and culture, and was made an honorary Doctor of Letters of the University of New South Wales in 2000. During his lifetime it was said that he transformed a small provincial gallery into a major Australian institution, now recognised as a significant player within the international museum fraternity.

Updated 2019