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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.

John Sumner, 1976

Jim Paterson

synthetic polymer paint and dry pigment on board (sheet: 76.4 cm x 50.0 cm)

John Sumner (b. 1924), recently described as the 'father of Australian drama', trained and worked in repertory theatres in England and Scotland before the war, during which he visited Melbourne as a sailor. He returned here in 1952 to manage the Union Theatre at the University of Melbourne. The following year he founded the Union Theatre Repertory Company, which was to become the Melbourne Theatre Company - Australia's first professional theatre company - in 1968. In 1955, when his actors were working an 80-hour week and he was designing lights and sets and producing programmes himself, he produced Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. It became the first Australian play to be performed in England with an all-Australian cast, running for seven months in London and winning the 1957 Evening Standard Award for best play. Sumner worked for a time with the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust before returning to the UTRC in 1959; from that time he remained until 1987, commuting between Australia and England for the last 12 years. Over his 32 years in Melbourne he worked energetically to promote Australian playwrights, premiering many David Williamson plays and continuing his productive association with Lawler.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Jim Paterson 2004

Accession number: 2004.163

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Jim Paterson

John Sumner (age 52 in 1976)

Subject professions

Performing arts

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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.