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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.

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John Coburn

1974
Vaike Liibus

oil on canvas (frame: 135.0 cm x 104.5 cm, support: 123.0 cm x 92.5 cm)

John Coburn AO (1925-2006) grew up in Far North Queensland and left school at 14 to work in a bank. After war service, he enrolled at the National Art School, Sydney under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. Over his three years there his teachers included Godfrey Miller, Dorothy Thornhill and Douglas Dundas. Through the 1950s, he taught at schools and painted some sets for ABC television shows. He held his first solo exhibition in 1958, and won the Blake Prize in 1960. Over the 1960s his style settled into a flat, glowingly colourful abstraction; from the late 1950s, he was producing editions of prints, at first assisted by his wife Barbara Woodward. His 1966 exhibition, at the Hungry Horse Gallery in Paddington, was a sellout. The same year he began designing tapestries, a medium in which he was particularly successful. For three years from 1969 Coburn lived in France, where he worked on two curtains for the new Sydney Opera House. The enormous Curtain of the Sun and even bigger Curtain of the Moon were woven in Aubusson, and hung in the Opera House’s Opera Theatre and Drama Theatre when it opened in 1973. Taken down soon after, they are now considered too valuable and difficult to hang permanently. In 1972 Coburn became head of the National Art School, but he resigned in 1974 to paint. All major Australian public galleries hold his works. The critic John McDonald said in his obituary that Coburn’s was ‘an art of affirmation, by turns cosmic and intimate’.

The Liibus family stayed with the Coburns in France while the Opera House tapestries were under way.


Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the Liibus family 2015
© Estate of Vaike Liibus

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

Vaike Liibus (age 57 in 1974)

John Coburn (age 49 in 1974)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Donated by

Vivien Jackson (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 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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