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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.

Portrait of Tam Purves, 1958

John Brack

oil on canvas (frame: 129.0 cm x 98.0 cm depth 6.5 cm, support: 122.0 cm x 91.5 cm)

Thomas ‘Tam’ Purves (1909–1969), founded the Australian Galleries in Collingwood, Melbourne with his wife Anne in 1956. Purves began his career as a manufacturer’s agent, and spent eighteen years running a successful dress-pattern manufacturing business with his wife. He managed the business aspects of the Australian Galleries, while Anne dealt with the art. As a team, they pioneered professional dealing in Australian contemporary art, promoting the careers of artists including Sidney Nolan, John Perceval, Albert Tucker, Jeffrey Smart and Brett Whiteley. John Brack began exhibiting with them in 1957. The following year he painted their portraits – as well as one of his friend, Fred Williams, which is now in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Perpetuated by the Purves’s son Stuart, Australian Galleries recently celebrated its fifty-fifth year, sealing its reputation as Australia’s longest-surviving commercial art business.

About ten per cent of John Brack’s works were portraits; none of them was flattering. The artist’s widow, Helen Brack, has written of this one ‘here is an essay about a businessman, and John makes no concessions’. The work was exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Portraits by John Brack in 2007, and in the National Gallery of Victoria’s huge show, John Brack, in 2009.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2012
© Helen Brack

Accession number: 2012.1

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

John Brack (age 38 in 1958)

Thomas Purves (age 49 in 1958)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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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, 1958 John Brack
Portrait of Tam Purves, 1958 John Brack
Portrait of Tam Purves, 1958 John Brack
Portrait of Tam Purves, 1958 John Brack

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.

Portrait of Kym Bonython/Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap, 1963-66 John Brack
Portrait of Kym Bonython/Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap, 1963-66 John Brack
Portrait of Kym Bonython/Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap, 1963-66 John Brack
Portrait of Kym Bonython/Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap, 1963-66 John Brack

Somewhere to hang your cap

Magazine article by Beatrice Thompson, 2007

A pair of portraits by John Brack; Portrait of Kym Bonython and Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap combine to create a quirky depiction of their subject.

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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.