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Sketch for portrait of Justin O'Brien
, 1980

by Bryan Westwood

oil withfibre-tipped pen underdrawing on composition board (frame: 90.4 cm x 74.5 cm, sight: 79.5 cm x 59.5 cm)

Justin O'Brien (1917-1996) was one of the major Australian artists of his generation. Having studied with Edward Smith before the war, he served in Palestine and Greece before being captured at Ekali and interned first in Athens and then Torun in Poland. During captivity O'Brien was inspired by the Byzantine art of the countries in which he was held, and its rich colours and detailed, sharp lines continued to inform his mature works. The pictures he managed to paint in Torun, with materials supplied by the Red Cross, formed the nucleus of his first Australian exhibition, held in Sydney with another ex-prisoner, Jesse Martin. He taught at Cranbrook School before moving to Rome in 1967. Every two years he returned to Australia to exhibit, and see contemporaries such as Margaret Olley, Jeffrey Smart and Donald Friend. O'Brien's work is represented collections throughout Australia as well as the Vatican Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome.

Bryan Westwood (1930-2000) was a painter and printmaker who twice won the Archibald Prize, for his portrait of artist and critic Elwyn Lynn (1989) and of the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating (1992). Largely self-taught, Westwood did not start painting professionally until his mid-thirties; up to this age he held jobs in economics, advertising and the film industry. His decision to pursue painting was prompted by friendships with Jeffrey Smart and Justin O'Brien, with whom he had some lessons. His work was characterised by a dispassionate scrutiny of objects and a mannerly approach in their portrayal. Like fellow painter and friend, Margaret Olley (who sat for him several times) he emphasised craft, conscientiousness and respect for tradition in his painting. He was the official artist to the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in 1990, travelling to Turkey with the veterans. The resulting paintings and sketches were exhibited at the Australian War Memorial. Westwood's portraits of Fairfax family members have recently been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. His portraits of Prime Ministers Paul Keating and Malcolm Fraser are currently on loan and hanging in Kings Hall.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the Margaret Olley Art Trust 2002
Accession number: 2002.68