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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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Portrait of Justin O'Brien

1984
Brian Seidel

oil on canvas (frame: 113.5 cm x 103.5 cm, support: 102.0 cm x 92.0 cm)

Justin O'Brien (1917-1996) was one of the major Australian artists of his generation. He studied with Edward Smith between 1930 and 1936. During the Second World War, he served in Palestine and Greece before being captured at Ekali and interned firstly in Athens and then Torun in Poland. In 1944 he was among a group of prisoners of war sent to Barcelona in exchange for German prisoners and soon after returned to Australia to be demobilised. During captivity O'Brien studied and was inspired by the Byzantine art of the countries in which he was held and this influenced his own art practice. The pictures he managed to paint in Torun, with materials supplied by the Red Cross, formed the nucleus of his first Australian exhibition, held in Sydney with another ex-prisoner, Jesse Martin. The Byzantine influence, which gave his early work individuality and style, also informed his mature painting. After the war he taught at Cranbrook School, before moving to Rome in 1967. He returned to Australia with exhibitions every two years. A contemporary of Margaret Olley, Jeffrey Smart and Donald Friend, O'Brien's work is represented in State and University collections throughout Australia and in the National Gallery of Australia, as well as the Vatican Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome. In 1987 the National Gallery of Victoria curated a major retrospective exhibition of his work.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the artist 2017
© Brian Seidel/Copyright Agency, 2021

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

Brian Seidel (age 56 in 1984)

Justin O'Brien (age 67 in 1984)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Donated by

Brian Seidel (1 portrait)

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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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