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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.

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, 2020

Accession number: 2017.129

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Brian Seidel (age 56 in 1984)

Justin O'Brien (age 67 in 1984)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

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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.