Skip to main content

We’re thrilled to welcome you back to the Gallery! Please see what we need you to do first.

Menu

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.

Robert Dessaix, 1998

Robert Hannaford

oil on canvas (frame: 183.5 cm x 153.0 cm, support: 180.0 cm x 150.0 cm)

Robert Dessaix (b. 1944) is a Hobart-based writer, translator and literary commentator, the former presenter of Radio National's 'Books and Writing'. Born in Sydney, he joined the ABC as a broadcaster after studying and teaching Russian at the Australian National University and Moscow State University. Dessaix has written English translations of Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and Russian and Estonian poetry, edited Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing: An Anthology, and is the author of A Mother's Disgrace (1994), Night Letters (1996) and Corfu (2001). Many of the short pieces, essays and journalism collected in (and so forth) (2000) were inspired by paintings. In Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev (2005), a mixture of biography, memoir and travel narrative, Dessaix returned to themes of Turgenev: the quest for faith, the literary critical treatise that he had written some twenty-five years earlier.

Robert Hannaford was political cartoonist for the Adelaide Advertiser for three years, and took up portrait painting full-time following encouragement from the veteran South Australian portraitist, Sir Ivor Hele. He has been a favourite in both the Archibald Prize and the Doug Moran Portrait Prize, which he won in 1990 with his painting Bill. Much in demand as an official portraitist, he painted the Historic Memorials Committee's official prime-ministerial portrait of Paul Keating.

Hannaford approached Dessaix about painting his portrait after having sketched him sleeping, while sitting next to him on a plane. In the first stages Dessaix was amazed to see himself in just 'a few strokes of black' that Hannaford had made; 'there were no eyes, there was no mouth, there were just a few sketch lines on white canvas, and it was me'. As the portrait progressed, the artist literally running to different vantage points in the room and back again to the canvas, holding mirrors at odd angles, coming in close to the author to stare silently at his features, Dessaix began to feel that at some level he was trying to maintain possession of something indefinable that Hannaford was 'trying to take hold of'. In the end, while he found the finished portrait beautiful as a work of art, he felt that Hannaford had rendered him 'more haggard' than he himself thought he looked, imbuing his face with 'a sort of sadness'. 'It reminds me a little bit of a face of someone on a receding ocean liner thinking "I might not see this - these people - again,"' he said.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Robert Dessaix 2000
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2000.29

Currently not on display

Copyright image request form
Request a digital copy of an image for publication

Artist and subject

Robert Hannaford (age 54 in 1998)

Robert Dessaix (age 54 in 1998)

Subject professions

Media and communications

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Lowitja O'Donoghue, 2006 Robert Hannaford
Lowitja O'Donoghue, 2006 Robert Hannaford
Lowitja O'Donoghue, 2006 Robert Hannaford
Lowitja O'Donoghue, 2006 Robert Hannaford

Anatomist's eye

Magazine article by Diana Warnes, 2016

Robert Hannaford has completed around 400 portraits over the span of his career. 

Lowitja O'Donoghue by Robert Hannaford video: 4 minutes and 5 seconds
Lowitja O'Donoghue by Robert Hannaford video: 4 minutes and 5 seconds
Lowitja O'Donoghue by Robert Hannaford video: 4 minutes and 5 seconds
Lowitja O'Donoghue by Robert Hannaford video: 4 minutes and 5 seconds

Lowitja O'Donoghue and Robert Hannaford

'I'm going to wear everything red, black, and yellow'

Portrait story

Lowitja O'Donoghue discusses her life and portrait by Robert Hannaford.

Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds
Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds
Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds
Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds

Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford

'The space around'

Portrait story

Tim Flannery and artist Robert Hannaford discuss the creation of Tim's portrait.

We would like to thank our partners.
© National Portrait Gallery 2020
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia


Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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.