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Portrait of Rolf
, 1968

by Hayward Veal

oil on canvas (frame: 105.5 cm x 105.5 cm, support: 101.5 cm x 101.5 cm)

Rolf Harris (b. 1930) was named the 5th most influential artist and entertainer of the 20th century in a millennial poll by Time magazine. National junior backstroke champion in 1946, Harris appeared on Australia's Amateur Hour while he was at university in Perth, singing Seven Beers with the Wrong Woman. In 1952 he left to study art in England, enrolling at the City & Guilds Art School upon arriving in London (in the mid-1950s his work was hung in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition).He began his television career as a cartoonist-storyteller in London 1953. The song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport became an international number one hit in 1960. Later recordings Jake the Peg and Two Little Boys - the latter Margaret Thatcher's favourite song - also topped the charts, as did a version of Stairway to Heaven in 1992. Since 1967 Harris has fronted The Rolf Harris Show , Rolf's Cartoon Club and Animal Hospital on UK TV. He made television history in 2001, when 6.8 million people watched the first episode of the BBC's Rolf On Art. Since then he has been credited with significantly raising broad public interest in art. In 2002, to coincide with the second series of Rolf on Art, the National Gallery in London mounted an exhibition of Harris's paintings alongside those of the artists who inspired him, including Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and Rousseau. Between 2004 and 2007, he filmed three series of the television program Star Portraits with Rolf Harris, a showcase for the work of professional portrait artists; he himself completed a remarkably informal commissioned portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2005. Harris’ legacy as entertainer and artist was irreparably damaged following his 2014 conviction and imprisonment for a number of sexual offences against teenage girls, with the crimes committed in the 1970s and 1980s. Subsequently stripped of his CBE and Order of Australia honours, amongst other awards, Harris was released in 2017 after serving three years in jail.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2009
Accession number: 2009.100