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Professor Harry Messel, 1973

Louis Kahan

oil on canvas laid on composition board (support: 91.3 cm x 122.0 cm)

Harry Messel AC CBE (b. 1922), scientist and academic, was born in Canada and gained his qualifications there and in Scotland and Ireland. He came to Australia after the war, and taught for two years at Adelaide University. In 1952, aged just 29, he was appointed to the University of Sydney as professor and head of the school of physics. Over the unprecedented 35 years that Messel ran the school it developed into one of the world’s leading university physics departments. To support its research Messel established the first university foundation in the Commonwealth, the Nuclear Research Foundation, through which he raised enormous sums. A prominent intellectual, he advised on government policy, pioneered the introduction of computers in Australia, contributed substantially to high school science education through his widely used science textbook and encouraged students to pursue careers in science through his International Science Schools. After his retirement from the university in 1987 Messel served on the World Conservation Union, heading its crocodile specialist group from 1989 to 2004. He served on the Australian Atomic Energy Commission from 1975 to 1981, and was chancellor of Bond University from 1992 to 1997.

Louis Kahan signed a series of his early works ‘A Guy from Paris’; but from 1950 he lived in Melbourne, where he made many hundreds of portraits and paintings with gently surreal elements. He won the Archibald in 1962 with a startling portrait of author Patrick White.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Mrs Lily Kahan 2006
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2006.7

Currently on display: Gallery Five (John Schaeffer Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Louis Kahan (age 68 in 1973)

Harry Messel AC CBE (age 51 in 1973)

Donated by

Lily Kahan (52 portraits)

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