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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 Ron Robertson-Swann, 1989

Lindsay Churchland

oil on canvas (frame: 123.0 cm x 157.5 cm, support: 122.5 cm x 155.0 cm)

Ron Robertson-Swann (b. 1941), sculptor, teacher and painter, studied at the National Art School (NAS) under Lyndon Dadswell in the late 1950s. During a period of study at St Martin’s in the UK, when he was mostly painting in a colour-field style, he assisted Henry Moore in his studio. Later he taught at St Martins, East Ham Technical College and Goldsmith’s College at the University of London. In 1965 he won the junior section of the John Moore painting prize in Liverpool, which was judged by Clement Greenberg. In 1968 he held his first solo show of paintings and sculptures at Rudy Komon’s Sydney gallery, and his work was exhibited in the pioneering show The Field at the NGV; the following year he won the Transfield Art Prize. Over the 1970s and 1980s he came to focus on sculpture. Having lectured in architecture at the University of New South Wales and the National Art School, he was head of sculpture at the Canberra School of Art from 1977 to 1989, and held the same position at the NAS from 2009 to 2018. Robertson-Swann won a Helen Lempriere Scholarship in 2017 and his works are held in major collections throughout Australia.

Robertson-Swann’s best-known piece is Vault, commissioned for Melbourne’s City Square in 1978. The bright yellow, angular, abstract steel piece created a sensation long before its completion. Installed in May 1980, and officially named Vault that September, it was dismantled in the December. From 1981 to 2002 it stood in Batman Park, newly created from a former rail yard on the north bank of the Yarra; since, it has stood outside the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Southbank. Now regarded as an icon and a treasure, Vault has inspired various projects by highly-regarded Melbourne architects, as well as a site-specific performance piece staged in the city in 2016. There is some suggestion that the time has come to return it to City Square, the space for which it was conceived.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Anouk and Coby Sanchez 2019
© Lindsay Churchland

Accession number: 2019.36

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Lindsay Churchland

Ron Robertson-Swann OAM (age 48 in 1989)

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.

Miranda Otto, 1997 Montalbetti & Campbell
Miranda Otto, 1997 Montalbetti & Campbell
Miranda Otto, 1997 Montalbetti & Campbell
Miranda Otto, 1997 Montalbetti & Campbell

Eye to eye

Previous exhibition, 2019

Eye to Eye is a summer Portrait Gallery Collection remix arranged by degree of eye contact – from turned away with eyes closed all the way through to right-back-at-you – as we explore artists’ and subjects’ choices around the direction of the gaze.

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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.