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Sir John Longstaff, born in Clunes, Victoria, studied at the NGV school from 1883 to 1887 and thenceforth at Corman's in Paris. Becoming friends with the Australian expatriate impressionist John Russell, he met Toulouse-Lautrec and others, but his own style remained conservative and he exhibited at the Salon and the RA in the early 1890s. 'Tall, handsome and charming', according to his biographer Leigh Astbury, 'Longstaff moved effortlessly in society circles where his skills as a portraitist were eagerly sought'. Indeed, his sitters included King Edward and Queen Alexandra. In London in 1907 he completed his colossal Arrival of Burke, Wills and King at the deserted camp at Cooper's Creek, Sunday evening, 21st April 1861, now in the collection of the NGV. During World War I he painted many portraits of leading Australian military figures (his cousin, Will Longstaff, painted some of the iconic paintings of the Australian War Memorial, as well as the portrait of Walter Lindrum now owned by the National Portrait Gallery). John Longstaff's 1923 painting of Nellie Melba was presented to the NGV from Melba's estate in 1932. John Longstaff won the Archibald Prize five times between 1925 and 1935; during this period, in 1928, he was knighted. From 1927 until his death in Melbourne in 1941 he was a trustee of the NGV.

Updated 2009