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Self portrait
, 2002

by Barry Humphries

oil on canvas (frame: 93.0 cm x 77.0 cm, support: 74.5 cm x 58.3 cm)

Barry Humphries AC CBE (b. 1934) is one of the most successful solo theatrical performers of all time. He adopted a professional stage career when he was twenty-one, leaving Melbourne in 1959 to seek success in England. By the early sixties, characters such as Edna Everage and Sandy Stone were burned into the Australian imagination, but it took until 1976 for his solo act to take root in England. Although he soon smashed theatre records there, it was not until 1999 - forty years into Humphries's career - that American audiences took to Edna. Eight months of sold-out Broadway shows and a 55-week nationwide tour ensued. Humphries has two honorary doctorates and has won the J.R. Ackerley Prize; the Golden Rose of Montreux; the TV Personality of the Year Award; the Drama Desk Award; the Outer Critics Circle Award; the National Broadway Award and a Special Tony Award.

Barry Humphries was an enthusiastic artist from childhood, and briefly attended the George Bell School as a teenager. In the early 1950s he discovered the Dada painters and poets, and over the course of the decade he orchestrated several offensive Dada happenings and exhibitions in Melbourne. Although wilfully jejune, Humphries's efforts in this art form had sufficient depth for Robert Hughes to write that he was the 'only Australian who ever really understood the Dada principle of ferocious provocation'. By the beginning of the 1970s he had abandoned his subversive art practice to concentrate on colourful landscapes, depicting both European and Australian views. Several of these, as well as several self-portraits, were exhibited in 2002-3 in the National Portrait Gallery's first biographical exhibition, Rarely Everage.

This work was included in an exhibition of Humphries's paintings in Brisbane in December 2002. Margaret Olley was a long-standing friend of Humphries's. Together they curated an exhibition of their favourite paintings, Favourites, at Sydney's SH Ervin Gallery in 2002.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the Margaret Hannah Olley Art Trust 2003
Accession number: 2003.05