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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.

Sir John Eccles

1959
Pam MacFarlane

pastel on paper (frame: 65.0 cm x 46.6 cm)

Sir John Carew Eccles AC FRS FAA (1903–1997) won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1963 for his discoveries concerning the ionic mechanisms involved in excitation and inhibition in the peripheral and central portions of the nerve cell membrane. Eccles excelled at school and university in country Victoria and Melbourne – and proved himself a top pole-vaulter – before moving to Oxford to join the laboratory of neuroscientist Charles Sherrington. After holding positions in Sydney and Otago, New Zealand, Eccles returned to Australia in September 1952 to take up the Foundation Chair of Physiology at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra. Here, he and his colleagues concentrated hard on the biophysical aspects of synaptic transmission. Eccles weathered a blow in 1960, when a journalist told him that he had won the Nobel Prize; the celebrations died abruptly when news arrived some hours later that it was Macfarlane Burnet who had won. Three years later, he shared the Nobel Prize with AF Huxley and AL Hodgkin. President of the Australian Academy of Science from 1957 until 1961, Eccles worked in the USA from 1966 onward and retired to Switzerland, where he is buried. Nearly a fifth of his staggering pile of publications dealt with the question of the relationship between the mind and the brain. As he grew old, the father of nine came to see the field of his life’s work as central to ‘the mysteries of coming to be, and the mysteries of ceasing to be’.

Pamela MacFarlane was born in Dunedin, New Zealand and completed a Master’s degree in Zoology at the University of Otago in the 1940s. During part of this period she also studied at the Dunedin School of Art. In 1949, when she was working as a publications illustrator at the University of Western Australia, she married physiologist Victor MacFarlane. After some years in Brisbane and New York, in 1959 the MacFarlanes moved to Canberra, where Victor became a Professorial Fellow under Eccles at the John Curtin School of Medical Research. During their time in the capital, Pamela MacFarlane made several pastel drawings of Eccles and painted a commissioned work, Uroboros 1963, for the Junior Common Room of the ANU’s Bruce Hall. In 1964, when Victor accepted a position at the Waite Institute, the family moved to Crafers in the Adelaide Hills. Here, much of her work was to be destroyed in the catastrophic bush fires of 1983. MacFarlane held about fifteen solo exhibitions in Dunedin, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra, and participated in many group shows. She is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, the state galleries of South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania and University collections in Brisbane and Canberra.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of an anonymous donor 2007
© Estate of Pam Macfarlane

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Pam MacFarlane

Sir John Carew Eccles AC FRS (age 56 in 1959)

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.

Sir Macfarlane Burnet
Sir Macfarlane Burnet
Sir Macfarlane Burnet
Sir Macfarlane Burnet

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Lee Kernaghan near Broken Hill
Lee Kernaghan near Broken Hill
Lee Kernaghan near Broken Hill
Lee Kernaghan near Broken Hill

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Previous exhibition, 2010

The Australian of the Year Awards have often provoked controversy about who is selected and whether their achievements are remarkable.

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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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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