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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.

Professor Derek Denton, 2009

Janet Dawson

pastel on paper (sheet: 46.5 cm x 40.0 cm)

Emeritus Professor Derek Denton AC (b. 1924), was cited by the US National Academy of Sciences in 1995 as ‘the world’s leading authority on the regulation of salt and water metabolism and relevant endocrine control mechanisms’. Four months after medical graduation in 1947, he made a basic discovery on kidney function at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. It was published by Nature (London). In 1949, he and Dr Victor Wynn were supported by Professor R D Wright and Sir MacFarlane Burnet, members of the National Health & Medical Research Council, to set up the Ionic Research Unit of the NHMRC in the Physiology Department at the University of Melbourne. In 1971 he became Founding Director of the Howard Florey Institute, the ‘fons et origo’ in Wright’s terms. It became one of the world’s top medical research institutes. He elucidated how genetically determined behaviours like thirst or salt appetite, are regulated by chemical and hormonal changes in the brain. He proposed basic primordial emotions of instincts e.g. thirst, hunger or sexual desire, may reflect the earliest evolutionary emergence of consciousness. He was elected one of 20 Foreign Medical Members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1974), the Australian Academy of Sciences (1979), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1986), the Royal College of Physicians, London (1988), the National Academy of Science of the US (1995), as Fellow of the Royal Society, London (1999) and the French Academy of Sciences (2003). His book, The Hunger for Salt, was described by Dr John Pappenheimer of Harvard University as ‘the best example of integrative physiology to come out of the 2nd half of the 20th century.’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Derek Denton AC and Dame Margaret Scott AC 2014
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2014.63

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Janet Dawson (age 74 in 2009)

Emeritus Professor Derek Denton AC (age 85 in 2009)

Subject professions

Science and technology

Donated by

Emeritus Professor Derek Denton AC (2 portraits)

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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.