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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.

Study for commissioned portrait, "Equation of life - a portrait of Professor Derek Denton", 2016

Evert Ploeg

print on transparency film (sheet: 29.8 cm x 21.0 cm, image: 12.0 cm x 8.4 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
Commissioned with the assistance of funds provided by Janet Whiting AM, Philip Lukies and Antonia Syme 2016
© Evert Ploeg

Accession number: 2016.43.15

Currently on display: Gallery Eight (Temporary Exhibition Gallery)

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Artist and subject

Evert Ploeg (age 53 in 2016)

Emeritus Professor Derek Denton AC (age 92 in 2016)

Subject professions

Science and technology

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.

Interview with Evert Ploeg video: 2 minutes
Interview with Evert Ploeg video: 2 minutes
Interview with Evert Ploeg video: 2 minutes
Interview with Evert Ploeg video: 2 minutes

Deborah Mailman by Evert Ploeg

Portrait story

An interview with artist Evert Ploeg about his portrait of the Australian actor Deborah Mailman.

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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.