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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.

Simone Young

2002
Bill Henson

triptych of type C photographs (frame (each): 136.5 cm x 186.0 cm)

Simone Young AM (b. 1961) is one of the leading conductors of her generation. At 25, she became the youngest resident conductor at Opera Australia, and was the first woman to conduct at the Vienna State Opera and at the Bastille Opera in Paris. Director of Opera Australia from 2001 to 2003, she then worked for ten years, from 2005, as the Artistic Director of the Hamburg State Opera and Music Director of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Based in Sussex, England, Young is returning to Australia in 2022 to become the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's chief conductor.

Bill Henson and Young share a love of German Romantic opera, and this connection constituted the foundation of the relationship between sitter and artist. Henson says of the portrait: 'I was interested in the way great music affects us. The sheer force of such beauty causes us to fall in love. It is that love that I wanted to see transform the subject’s appearance. But strangely, to suggest any of this, one must step back … Only across such a distance might one describe such intimacy and such longing.' Young herself has compared the portrait's structure to the three acts of an opera.

Commissioned with funds from the Farrell Family Foundation and the Basil Bressler Bequest 2002
© Bill Henson

Artist and subject

Bill Henson (age 47 in 2002)

Simone Young AM (age 41 in 2002)

Subject professions

Performing arts

Supported by

Basil P. Bressler (48 portraits supported)

Peter Farrell (1 portrait supported)

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.

Bill Henson

'Scale and presence'

Portrait story

Photographer Bill Henson describes creating his three part portrait of Simone Young.

Conduct becoming

Magazine article by Penelope Grist, 2017

Penelope Grist speaks to Bill Henson and Simone Young to discover the origins of the artist’s stunning photographic triptych.

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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 National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency