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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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Nigel Butterley, Composer

1977 (printed 2021)
Robert McFarlane

gelatin silver photograph on paper (image: 33 cm x 22 cm, sheet: 42 cm x 33 cm)

Nigel Butterley AM (1935-2022) was one of the foremost Australian composers and pianists of his generation. Butterley composed works for solo piano and violin and for string quartets, along with chamber and choral music, opera and several major orchestral compositions. In 1963, he composed Laudes, a piece which established his importance as a composer. His radiophonic choral work In the Head the Fire (1966) was awarded the Italia Prize and in 1985 Butterley was awarded the Don Banks Music Award. He was a member of the music staff at the ABC for a number of years before commencing as a lecturer in contemporary music at the Newcastle Conservatorium, then the University of Newcastle, until his retirement in 1991. He then taught composition at the Sydney Conservatorium and to HSC students. The Sydney Chamber Choir commissioned him to compose Beni Avshalom in 2007.

Robert McFarlane's portrait depicts Butterley at the piano in the midst of creating a composition. The date of the photograph suggests that he may have been working on the choral composition No Man is an Island, which was completed the same year. The reflective surface of the piano shows Butterley's confident fingers working through the notes as he writes. On the wall in the background is John Coburn's Canticle of the Sun (1965), which was a gift to Butterley from the artist.

Purchased with funds provided by Tim Bednall 2021
© Robert McFarlane/Copyright Agency, 2022

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

Robert McFarlane (age 35 in 1977)

Nigel Butterley AM (age 42 in 1977)

Subject professions

Performing arts

© National Portrait Gallery 2022
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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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