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Study for portrait of Peter Elliott, 1964

Jon Molvig

pencil on paper (sheet: 42.8 cm x 34.0 cm)

Peter Elliott AM (1926-2014) was an obstetrician, gynaecologist and gynaecological oncologist as well as a significant art collector and patron. The son of a country doctor, Elliott grew up scrambling around the lush country near Bellingen, NSW; through his grandfather, who had taught Henry Lawson, family friends included artists Norman Lindsay, Elioth Gruner, Arthur Streeton and Lloyd Rees. From Scots College, Sydney, Elliott enlisted in the Navy, and served around New Guinea. On discharge he enrolled at Sydney University, where he excelled in medical studies and played rugby and cricket for Andrew’s. In 1950 his father delivered the Sara quadruplets; witnessing the birth influenced his own choice of career, and in 1958 he went with his family to London to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology. In 1960, they returned; in due course, he became head of gynaecological oncology at King George V Hospital, and president of both the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and gynaecologists and the Asian and Oceanic Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. For many years, he worked as a volunteer in Asia and Oceania, often operating in open-air theatres in the tropics with low light and sterility; he trained many local surgeons. He published more than 150 research papers and delivered more than 250 lectures by invitation. He received an honorary doctorate of medicine from the University of Sydney in 2003. At the same time, he pursued his passion for art collecting. Dealer Philip Bacon stated that Elliott never paid a lot for art, instead collecting extensively, early in artists’ careers. (It is an indication of his discernment that the Mossgreen auction of his collection in August-September 2015 was widely reported to have grossed more than seven million dollars, with a clearance of 98%.) Often, he instructed young surgeons in the arts and collecting, as well as medicine, and he is credited with keeping many emerging artists in business through encouraging his friends to buy their works. He enjoyed close personal relationships with many gallery owners and artists including Fred Williams, Bill Robinson, Frank Hodgkinson, Russell Drysdale. He was a significant philanthropist, although his gifts were mostly anonymous. In 2011 the SH Ervin Gallery mounted an exhibition of his collection, Up Close and Personal, which was opened by his close friend Marie Bashir, then governor of New South Wales. Gavin Fry’s book The Peter Elliott Collection was published in 2011.

The painting is a very strong addition to the Gallery’s growing representation of medical practitioners and researchers. It makes a fine companion for the 1959 portrait of surgeon Edward MacMahon by William Dobell, acquired by gift of the MacMahon family in 2015.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Richard Elliott
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2016

Accession number: 2016.38.4

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Jon Molvig (age 41 in 1964)

Peter Elliott AM (age 38 in 1964)

Donated by

Richard Elliott (6 portraits)

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