Skip to main content

The National Portrait Gallery is temporarily closed to the public until further notice.

Menu

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

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

John Brack (age 28 in 1948)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Supported by

Tim Fairfax AC (53 portraits supported)

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.

Portrait of Tam Purves
Portrait of Tam Purves
Portrait of Tam Purves
Portrait of Tam Purves

Bonfire of the vanities

Magazine article by Stuart Purves, 2016

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

Self portrait 1955
Self portrait 1955
Self portrait 1955
Self portrait 1955

Portrait of the artist as a young man

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2010

Dr Sarah Engledow explores the early life and career of John Brack.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency