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Leo Schofield
, 2001

by Brent Harris

oil on canvas (frame: 141.4 cm x 106.4 cm, support: 140.0 cm x 105.0 cm)

Leo Schofield AM (b. 1935), writer and events director, has been a significant figure in Australia’s cultural life for decades. With a background in advertising and journalism, and a reputation as an uncompromising food critic (he established the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide in 1984) he was the director of the Melbourne Festival from 1994 to 1996 and the Sydney Festival from 1997 to 2001. In the latter role, he was credited with making the annual showcase for music, dance, theatre, art exhibitions and outdoor events more diverse, accessible and financially viable. From 1996 to 2000 he was the inaugural chairman of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; in 2001 he directed the Olympic Arts Festival; and in 2002-2003 he directed the Sydney New Year’s Eve celebrations. He has been a lively media commentator on museums and heritage issues, and during his long tenancy at Sydney’s historic Bronte House he painstakingly restored and maintained the house and its grounds. His book The Garden at Bronte (2002) is an Australian horticultural classic. Having revivified a historic house in the town of Kempton, north of Hobart, from 2005, Schofield returned to Sydney to continue work as an arts administrator, staging major events there, in Hobart and in Brisbane. Schofield donated beguiling miniatures of Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis and his wife Elizabeth to the National Portrait Gallery in 2002, and served on the Gallery’s advisory board.

Brent Harris (b. 1956) is a Melbourne-based painter and printmaker best known for his distinctive brand of geometric abstraction. In some of Harris’s abstract work, inaugural National Portrait Gallery Director Andrew Sayers noticed circular forms that were faintly suggestive of portraiture. Leo Schofield’s long and diverse involvement in the arts led Sayers to believe that he would embrace the idea of sitting to a painter working completely outside his usual practice. Having been persuaded to undertake the commission, which came as a considerable surprise, Harris finished two different paintings of Schofield, and invited the Gallery to choose between them. In one, Schofield was pictured under a flowering wisteria, reflecting his passion for old gardens. In the other – the work chosen – the oval frame around Schofield’s sparely rendered, yet unmistakable face seemed to reflect his interest in colonial art. Brent Harris said that his first portrait would probably be his last; later he completed a starkly gentle series depicting the face of Christ.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Commissioned for the National Portrait Gallery by Angela Nevill, Nevill Keating Pictures Ltd, in memory of William Keating 2001
Accession number: 2002.5