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L. Gordon Darling AC CMG
, 2006

by Jiawei Shen

oil on canvas (frame: 180.5 cm x 164.5 cm, support: 168.8 cm x 153.0 cm)

L Gordon Darling AC CMG (1921-2015), the Founding Patron of the National Portrait Gallery, was born in London and schooled in England before serving as a major in the AIF during World War II. In the early 1950s he became a company director with BHP, a position he held for thirty-two years. For fifteen years during this period he was also Chairman of Rheem Australia and Koitaki Ltd. His interest in the visual arts led him to accept the position of inaugural Chairman of the Board of the Australian National Gallery from 1982 to 1986. At the end of this period he established The Gordon Darling Australian Print Fund, which has acquired more than 6000 prints for the national collection to date. In 1991 he established the Gordon Darling Foundation, which provides funding and staff development opportunities for public art institutions Australia-wide. That year, too, he and his wife, Marilyn, initiated and facilitated the touring exhibition Uncommon Australians: Towards an Australian Portrait Gallery. The interest generated by the exhibition led to the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery. Amongst the very earliest acquisitions of the Gallery were gifts from Darling, who accepted the inaugural Board’s invitation to become the Founding Patron of the Gallery in mid-1998. Since then he has enabled the acquisition of many key works for the Collection, and his support carried the Gallery to the opening of its new, dedicated home in December 2008.

Jiawei Shen (b. 1948) who painted the portrait of Crown Princess Mary of Denmark for the National Portrait Gallery in 2005, often places his sitters within evocative dreamlike or remembered settings. The backdrop of his portrait of Darling suggests the competition-winning design for the dedicated National Portrait Gallery – the project the Founding Patron long envisaged and urged. Set apart from the rest of the Collection in the Gordon Darling Hall, and seeming to capture some of the natural light of the space, his portrait hangs adjacent to the boards listing the many donors and benefactors to the institution.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with the assistance of the Mundango Charitable Trust and Claudia Hyles 2006
Accession number: 2006.71