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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.

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Shigeo Sawada

c. 1915
Kan Studios

gelatin silver photograph on paper (sheet: 27.2 cm x 16.5 cm, image: 19.0 cm x 12.9 cm)

Shigeo Sawada (1890-1940), trading company executive, came to Sydney in 1915 on behalf of Okura and Co Trading Ltd, the first independent Japanese company to establish a branch abroad. At that time, there was widespread suspicion that German firms were buying wool under cover of Japanese trading names, and one of Sawada’s early responsibilities was to reassure wool brokers that the Japanese market was above-board. Okura and Co built up extensive interests in Australian wool, barley, wheat, flour, hides and pelts in the interwar years, when Japan was one of Australia’s key trade partners; there were sixty or more trading companies in Sydney before World War II, with Japan, China and India purchasing 21% of Australia and New Zealand’s clip in 1934-1935. Having settled in Mosman soon after his arrival, in 1920 Sawada moved into a guest house owned by the family of Nelson Illingworth, a prominent Sydney sculptor, who made the statuette of Henry Parkes in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. In 1924 he married Illingworth’s daughter, Thelma; the couple adopted a local urchin, Ron Wylie, in the 1930s. Conspicuous on the Sydney social circuit, Shigeo and Thelma Sawada lived in a house called Hakone in Mosman until Shigeo’s death in 1940, by which time he had been Managing Director of Okura Co for three years. Shigeo’s brother, Renzo Sawada, was Japanese ambassador to France, and later Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Observer of Japan to the UN; Renzo presented the Peace Bell that stands at UN headquarters in New York. Shigeo Sawada’s ashes are divided between Japan and Mosman.

Gift of Ron Wylie 2007

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

Kan Studios

Shigeo Sawada (age 25 in 1915)

Subject professions

Business, trades and industry

Donated by

Ron Wylie (1 portrait)

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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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