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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.

Life mask of John Bell, c. 1980

an unknown artist

cast plaster

John Bell AO OBE (b. 1940), actor and director, is one of Australia's best-known theatre personalities. His theatre credits include work for the Old Tote Theatre Company, all of the major state theatre companies as actor and/or director and five years in the UK with The Royal Shakespeare Company. As co-founder of the Nimrod Theatre Company in Sydney, he presented many of Australia's premiere productions of Australian plays in the 1970s and 1980s, including several David Williamson plays and Peter Kenna's A Hard God. Nimrod also began the evolution of an Australian Shakespeare style with successful productions of Measure For Measure, Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth. In 1990 Bell founded The Bell Shakespeare Company, which has mounted acclaimed productions of many Shakespeare plays. Bell has acted for the company in the roles of Shylock, Richard III, Macbeth, Malvolio, Coriolanus, Leontes, Prospero and King Lear. In 2002, his Richard III earned him a Helpmann Award and the following year he received the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Cultural Leadership Award. Designated a National Living Treasure, he has two honorary doctorates.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Roslyn Lawson 2013

Accession number: 2013.44

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

John Bell AO OBE (age 40 in 1980)

Subject professions

Performing arts

Related information

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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.

John Bell as King Lear oil on Belgian linen, 2001 by Nicholas Harding
John Bell as King Lear oil on Belgian linen, 2001 by Nicholas Harding
John Bell as King Lear oil on Belgian linen, 2001 by Nicholas Harding
John Bell as King Lear oil on Belgian linen, 2001 by Nicholas Harding

Lear unbuttoned

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2011

Sarah Engledow steps up to the footlights and applauds the storyline behind Nicholas Harding's portraits of actor John Bell.

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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.