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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.

Study for John Bell as King Lear, 1998-2001

Nicholas Harding (artist)

ink, charcoal and conté on paper (frame: 56.8 cm x 45.8 cm, sheet: 43.9 cm x 33.5 cm)

John Bell AO OBE (b. 1940) is Australia’s preeminent Shakespearean actor and director. Having graduated from the University of Sydney in 1962, he acted at the Old Tote and with all the state theatre companies before spending five years at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK. On return, he co-founded the Nimrod Theatre in Sydney, which staged premieres and influential interpretations of many Australian plays in the 1970s and 1980s. Nimrod also initiated a distinctively Australian Shakespeare style. In 1990 Bell founded the Bell Shakespeare Company, which has set the standard for Australian performances of the playwright’s works ever since. Bell acted for the company in the roles of Shylock, Macbeth, Henry V, Titus Andronicus, Malvolio, Coriolanus, Richard III, Leontes, Prospero and King Lear – several of them over different productions, many years apart. He retired from his eponymous company in 2015. In 2017, to general rejoicing, he resumed the stage in the title role of The Father for the Sydney Theatre Company.

Nicholas Harding, an habitué of the theatre, was at the first productions of the Bell Shakespeare Company, and conceived of a painting of Bell as he watched him in The Merchant of Venice in a stifling tent in 1991. Over the course of a decade, his imagination inflamed by various performances, he made several portraits of him. This ‘study’, to which Harding returned repeatedly, evolved alongside the much bigger John Bell as King Lear, which won Harding the Archibald Prize in 2001. He also won the People’s Choice Award – his was the first painting to claim both honours. Recently, Harding drew the septuagenarian Bell in pyjamas, rehearsing The Father.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the artist 2010
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
© Nicholas Harding

Accession number: 2010.77

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Nicholas Harding (age 42 in 1998)

John Bell AO OBE (age 58 in 1998)

Subject professions

Performing arts

Donated by

Nicholas Harding (3 portraits)

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.

David Marr, 2011 by Nicholas Harding
David Marr, 2011 by Nicholas Harding
David Marr, 2011 by Nicholas Harding
David Marr, 2011 by Nicholas Harding

Through thick and thin

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2017

Sarah Engledow likes the manifold mediums of Nicholas Harding’s portraiture.

Rehearsing Godot (Mullins as Lucky) 4.11.2013 by Nicholas Harding
Rehearsing Godot (Mullins as Lucky) 4.11.2013 by Nicholas Harding
Rehearsing Godot (Mullins as Lucky) 4.11.2013 by Nicholas Harding
Rehearsing Godot (Mullins as Lucky) 4.11.2013 by Nicholas Harding

Waiting for Godot

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2015

'Artist and actors, advancing spasmodically, find their rhythm together' writes Sarah Engledow.

Robert Drew by Nicholas Harding video: 3 minutes
Robert Drew by Nicholas Harding video: 3 minutes
Robert Drew by Nicholas Harding video: 3 minutes
Robert Drew by Nicholas Harding video: 3 minutes

Robert Drewe

An interview with Nicholas Harding

Portrait story

Artist Nicholas Harding talks about what was captured in his portrait of Robert Drewe.

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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.