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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.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Robert Dessaix

1998
Robert Hannaford AM

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
© Robert Hannaford/Copyright Agency, 2021

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Robert Hannaford AM (age 54 in 1998)

Robert Dessaix (age 54 in 1998)

Subject professions

Media and communications

Donated by

Robert Dessaix (1 portrait)

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
Lowitja O'Donoghue
Lowitja O'Donoghue
Lowitja O'Donoghue

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 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.

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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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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