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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.

Barbara Blackman

c. 1953
an unknown artist

gelatin silver photograph on paper (image: 28.8 cm x 24.1 cm)

Barbara Blackman AO (b. 1928), writer, poet and arts patron, was only fifteen when the ABC Weekly published one of her poems. She became a member of Brisbane's literary circle, joining the writers' group Barjai, which included Judith Wright and Thea Astley. In 1950 she was diagnosed with optic atrophy, and was declared blind by the age of 22. 'It seemed to me I was given a life sentence for a crime I had not committed,' she wrote in her 1997 biography Glass after Glass. Moving to Sydney to study, she met artist Charles Blackman. After they married in 1952, they moved to Melbourne, where they associated with the avant-garde group centred around the Melbourne Contemporary Art Society: Arthur Boyd, Fred Williams, Joy Hester, John and Sunday Reed, Clifton Pugh, John Perceval, Len French and Mirka Mora among others. In the 1960s the Blackmans were part of the Australian Push active in London. Long-term muse to her husband (they divorced in 1978), she appeared in many of his paintings including his 1956 series Alice in Wonderland, and modelled for their artist friends. Blackman also worked as a magazine columnist and a radio-producer for Radio for the Print Handicapped, and helped form the National Federation of Blind Citizens. She interviewed hundreds of people for the National Library of Australia's oral history program. Blackman published Portrait of a Friendship, which drew on her correspondence with Judith Wright, in 2007. A documentary about her life, Seeing from Within, was released in 2017.

Gift of Barbara Blackman 2004

Artist and subject

Barbara Blackman AO (age 25 in 1953)

Donated by

Barbara Blackman AO (3 portraits)

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.

Barbara Blackman
Barbara Blackman
Barbara Blackman
Barbara Blackman

Life class

Magazine article by Leonie Hellmers, 2004

Barbara Blackman reflects on her experiences as a life model.

Barbara Blackman
Barbara Blackman
Barbara Blackman
Barbara Blackman

Restoring histories

Magazine article by Gillian Raymond, 2004

Photographic conservation practices and the restoration of the Barbara Blackman photographic portrait.

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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