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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.

Self portrait

c. 1948
John Brack

conté crayon on paper (sheet: 32.4 cm x 25.2 cm)

John Brack, artist, grew up in Melbourne and studied at the National Gallery School at night while working as a junior insurance clerk. After war service he resumed his studies, and in 1949 secured a job in the National Gallery of Victoria’s Print Room, where he worked until 1951, leaving to take up the position of art master at Melbourne Grammar School. His paintings succeeded immediately; his first exhibited work, Barber’s Shop, was purchased for the NGV in 1953 as was Collins Street, 5pm, three years later. In 1962 he became Head of the National Gallery Art School. Six years later, finally confident that he could make a living as a full-time artist, he resigned. He painted shopfronts, school yards, gardens and housing estates, nudes, office workers, ballroom dancers, jockeys, brides, drinkers, commissioned portraits and portraits of friends and family. In recent years The Bar 1954 and The Old Time 1969 have set new auction records for the sale of Australian paintings. This drawing was presented by the young John Brack to his friend Ursula Hoff, who was the Keeper of Prints at the National Gallery of Victoria from 1949. The work is much softer than the paintings, drawings and prints for which Brack was soon to become renowned. Art historian Sasha Grishin explains that the young artist used a study Georges Seurat made for Une Baignade, Asnières, as a guide to his own materials and composition.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by Tim Fairfax AC 2010
© Helen Brack

Artist and subject

John Brack (age 28 in 1948)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Supported by

Tim Fairfax AC (53 portraits supported)

Related information

Little faces

10:30am, Wed 26 May

Little faces is for babies and toddlers (with their grown up) to play, sing and have fun discovering a portrait together.

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.

Bonfire of the vanities

Magazine article by Stuart Purves, 2016

Australian Galleries Director Stuart Purves tells the story of two portraits by John Brack.

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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.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency