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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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Li Cunxin

2018
Jun Chen

oil on canvas (frame: 203.0 cm x 142.5 cm depth 5.5 cm, support: 200.0 cm x 139.5 cm)

Li Cunxin AO (b. 1961) is the artistic director of the Queensland Ballet. Born into an impoverished family in rural Qingdao, China, Li was selected for the Beijing Dance Academy at the age of eleven. After seven years' training, he received permission to train with the Houston Ballet in the United States. He defected just days before his scheduled return to China in 1981. For sixteen years, he performed with the Houston Ballet, becoming a principal dancer and appearing with companies across the world. After marrying the Australian dancer Mary McKendry, he became principal artist with The Australian Ballet in Melbourne in 1995. During four years with the company he maintained a punishing regimen, training and working as a stockbroker in between rehearsals and performances. Published in 2003, Li's autobiography Mao's Last Dancer was adapted into a feature film in 2009. In 2012, he became the Queensland Ballet’s fifth artistic director.

Commissioned to paint this portrait of Cunxin in 2018, Jun Chen noted: 'Not only do we share a common heritage and culture, but to an extent we share a similar journey, leaving our country of birth to pursue our artistic careers. I wanted to show Li as he is, a lifelong dancer, self-assured, depicted in the world that he knows best and surrounded by other dancers about to undertake the rigours of rehearsal in preparation for another performance.'

Commissioned with funds provided by Tim Fairfax AC 2018
© Jun Chen

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

Jun Chen (age 58 in 2018)

Li Cunxin AO (age 57 in 2018)

Subject professions

Performing arts

Supported by

Tim Fairfax AC (53 portraits supported)

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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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