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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 black coat: Lily Brett

1989
David Rankin OAM

oil on canvas (frame: 53.5 cm x 41.0 cm, support: 51.0 cm x 38.0 cm)

Lily Brett (b. 1946) and David Rankin (b. 1946) met in 1979. He was a widower with a young daughter, she was divorced with two children. Both had emigrated to Australia after the Second World War as children. Rankin's wife had recently died, and Brett was the daughter of Auschwitz survivors. Together they inspired each other. Brett, a novelist, essayist and poet, published her first collection of poetry in 1986, The Auschwitz Poems. Rankin, an artist who held his first exhibition at the age of 22 and won the prestigious Wynne Prize for landscape in 1983, illustrated the book. The couple moved to New York in 1989 and the following year Brett published her first novel, Things Could be Worse. She has since published another six novels, nine volumes of poetry, several of them on the theme of the Holocaust, and five collections of essays. Rankin has had many solo and group exhibitions internationally, and his work is held in major Australian collections.

Painted in 1989, this portrait of Brett shows the influence of her personal history on Rankin. A fusion of Western, Indigenous Australian and Asian art traditions, Rankin's work expanded to include Jewish themes after meeting Brett. The portrait is imbued with the darkness of the Holocaust.


Gift of Dr Gene Sherman AM and Brian Sherman AM 2012. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.
© David Rankin/Copyright Agency, 2021

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

David Rankin OAM (age 43 in 1989)

Lily Brett OAM (age 43 in 1989)

Donated by

Brian Sherman (4 portraits)

Dr Gene Sherman AM (4 portraits)

Related portraits

1. Lily Brett, n.d. (printed 2021). All Jacqueline Mitelman.

Related information

The black coat: Lily Brett
The black coat: Lily Brett
The black coat: Lily Brett
The black coat: Lily Brett

Virtual highlights tour

Knowing me, knowing you

12:30pm, Tue 19 Oct

Convenient or muse? Artists often make portraits of people they love and live with. Join us to take a close up and personal look at works that capture the intimate and familiar relationship between artist and sitter.

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.

Miranda Otto
Miranda Otto
Miranda Otto
Miranda Otto

Eye to eye

Previous exhibition, 2019

Eye to Eye is a summer Portrait Gallery Collection remix arranged by degree of eye contact – from turned away with eyes closed all the way through to right-back-at-you – as we explore artists’ and subjects’ choices around the direction of the gaze.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
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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 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.

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