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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.

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 (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 of America. 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. Having danced with and then marrying the Australian Mary McKendry, in 1995 he became principal artist with the Australian Ballet in Melbourne. During his 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, working as a broker, he accepted an offer from the Queensland Ballet to become its fifth artistic director. Li was Australian Father of the Year in 2009 and Queensland’s Australian of the Year in 2014, and has two honorary doctorates. The Museum of Brisbane mounted the touring exhibition Mao’s Last Dancer The Exhibition: A portrait of Li Cunxin in 2017-2018.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Commissioned with funds provided by Tim Fairfax AC 2018
© Jun Chen

Accession number: 2018.49

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Jun Chen (age 58 in 2018)

Li Cunxin (age 57 in 2018)

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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.