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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.

Dame Joan Sutherland, c. 1977

Robert Hannaford

oil on board (frame: 105.0 cm x 82.0 cm)

Dame Joan Sutherland OM AC DBE (1926–2010) was one of the world’s greatest operatic divas. After winning the Mobil Song Quest in 1950, Sutherland left Australia to study at the Royal College of Music in London, making her debut at Covent Garden in 1952 in The Magic Flute. Within a few weeks she was appearing there in Norma, with Maria Callas in the title role. In London a fellow expatriate, conductor Richard Bonynge, became her mentor and later her husband. He encouraged her to abandon the heavier vocal roles she favoured and to become a coloratura soprano; the transformation was key to her success. Sutherland’s 1959 performance in Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden launched an international career that spanned nearly forty years, during which her distinctive voice, immense vocal range and wide repertoire earned her the title ‘La Stupenda’. She was Australian of the Year in 1961, the second year the title was awarded. Thirty years later, she received the Order of Merit – one of a mere handful of Australians, and the only Australian woman, on which that honour has been bestowed. In 1974, Sutherland and Bonynge returned to Australia, and over the next decade they lent their star power to the Australian Opera. In the years following, she was designated a Living National Treasure. Sutherland lived in Switzerland for many years. When she died, it had been more than twenty years since the night on which she last performed, at Covent Garden. She was the first Australian to be given a memorial service in Westminster Abbey since Sir Robert Menzies died in 1978.

Robert Hannaford (b. 1944), commissioned to paint Sutherland by the Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1977, produced several portraits of the diva. The portrait sittings took place at Potts Point, Sydney, over a two- week period during which Sutherland was performing at the Opera House. Hannaford recalls that she would not sit on the days of performances, and that during portrait sittings she sang along to tapes provided by Richard Bonynge.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of William Bowmore AO OBE 2003
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
© Robert Hannaford/Copyright Agency, 2020

Accession number: 2003.85

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Robert Hannaford (age 33 in 1977)

Dame Joan Sutherland OM AC DBE (age 51 in 1977)

Subject professions

Performing arts

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.

Lowitja O'Donoghue, 2006 Robert Hannaford
Lowitja O'Donoghue, 2006 Robert Hannaford
Lowitja O'Donoghue, 2006 Robert Hannaford
Lowitja O'Donoghue, 2006 Robert Hannaford

Anatomist's eye

Magazine article by Diana Warnes, 2016

Robert Hannaford has completed around 400 portraits over the span of his career. 

Lowitja O'Donoghue by Robert Hannaford video: 4 minutes and 5 seconds
Lowitja O'Donoghue by Robert Hannaford video: 4 minutes and 5 seconds
Lowitja O'Donoghue by Robert Hannaford video: 4 minutes and 5 seconds
Lowitja O'Donoghue by Robert Hannaford video: 4 minutes and 5 seconds

Lowitja O'Donoghue and Robert Hannaford

'I'm going to wear everything red, black, and yellow'

Portrait story

Lowitja O'Donoghue discusses her life and portrait by Robert Hannaford.

Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds
Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds
Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds
Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds

Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford

'The space around'

Portrait story

Tim Flannery and artist Robert Hannaford discuss the creation of Tim's portrait.

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© National Portrait Gallery 2020
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Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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.