Skip to main content

Peter Sculthorpe
, 1982

by Eric Smith

oil on canvas (frame: 150.0 cm x 215.0 cm, support: 139.0 cm x 204.0 cm)

Peter Sculthorpe AO OBE (1929–2014) was an internationally renowned composer. Born in Launceston, Sculthorpe began music lessons around age seven and wrote his first compositions by torchlight under the bedclothes at night. At high school, he decided to become ‘the most famous composer in Tasmania’, enrolling at the University of Melbourne at sixteen. His 1954 Sonatina for piano was selected for performance in Germany in 1955; and in 1958 he won a scholarship to study at Oxford. In 1966 Sculthorpe gained a Harkness Fellowship to study in the US and later became composer-in-residence at Yale University. Sculthorpe stated in 1998 that, by being overseas, he ‘gained a perspective on what I had left behind at home’; consequently, a number of his major works explore aspects of Australian climate, landscape, history and Indigenous culture, such as Irkanda IV (1961), Sun Music I and Sun Music III (1965 & 1967), Port Essington (1977) and Kakadu (1988). In the late 1960s, Sculthorpe was appointed Reader in Music at Sydney University, and later held a personal chair as its Professor in Musical Composition. A member of the Order of the British Empire and the Order of Australia, Sculthorpe counted being named a National Living Treasure as among the most significant of his many honours and awards. His eighteenth string quartet was premiered in June 2010.

Eric Smith (1919-2017), painter, studied commercial art in his native Melbourne and attended RMIT. He won the Blake Prize six times between 1956 and 1970. Between 1960 and 1962 he was a member of the Sydney Nine group of abstract artists. In 1962 Smith was awarded the Helena Rubenstein travelling scholarship. Returning to figuration, he won the Archibald Prizes of 1970 and 1981, also taking out the Wynne Prize in 1974 and the Sulman Prize in 1953, 1973 and 2003. This portrait of Sculthorpe won Smith his third Archibald Prize, in 1982.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds from the Basil Bressler Bequest 2004
Accession number: 2004.27