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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, 1949

Louis Kahan

pen and ink on book page (frame: 46.0 cm x 36.2 cm, sheet: 24.0 cm x 16.5 cm)

Louis Kahan was born in Russia to Jewish parents, and grew up in Vienna, where he trained as a tailor. At 20 he went to Paris, where he worked for the couturier Paul Poiret as a tailor and then a designer. In 1939, he enlisted in the Foreign Legion; as the war progressed he worked for the American Red Cross, making thousands of glamorous portraits of wounded servicemen in French and American hospitals in North Africa. After the war he returned to Paris and worked as an illustrator for Le Figaro, but in 1947 he came to Australia. He settled in Melbourne in 1950. Soon after he arrived the editor of Meanjin, Clem Christesen, asked him to make a series of pen and ink portraits of writers for the journal. Critic Robert Nelson wrote that these portraits 'stand tall in the great tradition of intellectual homage: direct, well observed, economical, even brusque'. Over the next fifty years his pen and ink portraits were hung in many Melbourne homes, while he continued to experiment with techniques and fields of activity. The Jewish Museum held a Kahan retrospective in 1997, comprising portraits, stained glass, drawings, paintings, prints, costume and set designs and ephemera. A selection of his war drawings was shown at the Australian Embassy in Washington in 2005. Kahan won the Archibald Prize in 1962 with a startling portrait of Patrick White.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Dr Gene Sherman AM and Brian Sherman AM 2012
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2012.220

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Louis Kahan (age 44 in 1949)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Donated by

Brian Sherman (4 portraits)

Dr Gene Sherman AM (4 portraits)

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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.

Self portrait, 1949 Louis Kahan
Self portrait, 1949 Louis Kahan
Self portrait, 1949 Louis Kahan
Self portrait, 1949 Louis Kahan

A guy from Paris

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2018

Sarah Engledow on a foundational gallery figure who was quick on the draw.

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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.