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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.

Sir Robert May AC Kt, 1999

Polly Borland

type C photograph on paper (image: 48.7 cm x 38.7 cm)

Robert May, Baron May of Oxford OM AC (b. 1936), physicist, chemical engineer, chemist and mathematician, once described himself as a ‘scientist with a short attention span.’ Born and educated in Sydney, where he received his PhD in experimental physics in 1959, he lectured at Harvard, Sydney and Princeton before taking up a joint professorship at Imperial College London and Oxford. He was chief scientific adviser to the British government from 1995 to 2000 and president of the Royal Society from 2000 to 2005; he was a crossbench member of the House of Lords from 2001 until 2017. Created a life peer in 2001, in 2007 he received the Copley Medal from the Royal Society; his other honours are copious in the extreme. His primary interests involve structure and dynamics of ecosystems – which he has expanded to examine other networks, like banking systems – and their response to disturbances. Residing in Oxford, May is now urging coordinated action on climate change.

Polly Borland photographed May in London in 1999. He holds a stuffed thylacine – a species that became extinct the year he was born - as a mark of his continued interest in population change. He said that holding it made him feel as if he had wandered into a Monty Python sketch.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2001
© Polly Borland

Accession number: 2001.56

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Polly Borland (age 40 in 1999)

Lord Robert May OM KBE FRS FAA (age 63 in 1999)

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.

Clive James, 1999 Polly Borland
Clive James, 1999 Polly Borland
Clive James, 1999 Polly Borland
Clive James, 1999 Polly Borland

Golden Jubilee

Magazine article by Magda Keaney, 2002

Polly Borland's photograph of The Queen was commissioned by Buckingham Palace as part of a series of high profile celebrations to mark the Golden Jubilee.

Confide in Me

Magazine article by Sarah Hill, 2002

This article examines the photographic portraiture of Polly Borland.

Creatures of Leisure series (David 'Bird' Twohill), 1982 Paul Worstead
Creatures of Leisure series (David 'Bird' Twohill), 1982 Paul Worstead
Creatures of Leisure series (David 'Bird' Twohill), 1982 Paul Worstead
Creatures of Leisure series (David 'Bird' Twohill), 1982 Paul Worstead

Electric!

Portraits that pop!

Previous exhibition, 2018

Celebrate the Gallery’s 20th birthday summer with Electric! Portraits that pop! The collection exhibition features a mix of bright, bold and colourful paintings, prints and photographs, and buoyant video portraits.

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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.