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Sir Colin Syme
, 1970

by Judy Cassab

oil on canvas laid on composition board (frame: 118.1 cm x 94.7 cm depth 4.3 cm, support: 102.2 cm x 78.7 cm depth 0.5 cm)

Sir Colin Syme (1903-1986) was Chairman of BHP for nineteen years, from 1952 to 1971. He studied in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney before becoming a solicitor in the Melbourne firm of Hedderwick, Fookes and Alston in 1923. Five years later he became a partner in the firm, remaining so until 1966. Meanwhile, in 1937, he became a director of BHP and many of its subsidiaries, including Tubemakers of Australia, Australian Iron and Steel, Rylands Bros, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and the Private Investment Company for Asia. He was also a director of several other companies, including Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand, Elder Smith Goldsborough Mort, and the International Iron and Steel Institute. Late in his career, he was President of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Judy Cassab AO CBE is one of Australia's best-loved, most successful and prolific portrait painters. Born in Vienna, she studied in Prague and at the Budapest Academy before adopting false papers and 'going underground' to escape the persecution of Hungarian Jews. After the war, she and her husband reunited and came to Australia. Finding that she could not make a living through painting, she took up teaching, because her husband would not let her work in a factory. She hardly spoke English and was disoriented by the strange light and seasons, but found inspiration for a more abstract style of painting in the landscape of the Northern Territory, to which she repeatedly returned. Gradually, she made friends with artists such as Jeffrey Smart, Stanislaus Rapotec and Desiderius Orban. In 1961 she became the first woman in twenty years to win the Archibald, with a portrait of Rapotec. She won again with a portrait of friend and fellow artist, Margo Lewers, in 1968. Cassab has held a great number of solo exhibitions and has won many awards, including a literary award for her published diaries.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of BHP Billiton 2003
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2003.97