Skip to main content

The National Portrait Gallery is temporarily closed to the public until further notice.

Menu

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.

John Dowie part two

In their own words

Recorded 1960

John Dowie part two
Audio: 2 minutes

The appearance of a person lies not in the little details, the tilt of a nose or something of that sort, but basically in large proportions. Everybody knows that you can recognise somebody at a very great distance. You think yourself, how if you were walking along a beach, you could see friends coming anything up to a quarter of a mile away, and furthermore recognise them quite clearly at that distance, although their face at that distance would be nothing more than a pink smudge, so that any question of proportions of nose and eyes and colour of lips or whatever it might be, just simply doesn’t enter into it. The poise, the characteristic way of walking, the proportion of head to face and all that sort of thing, all enter into your powers of recognising somebody at that distance. And it’s that sort of proportion, rhythmic relationships and such that you must seek to start with. The likeness actually starts in the very first strokes, the very first masses of clay that are put on, are seeking this rhythmic and proportional element of the head that you are portraying. Then by progressive steps all the lesser elements are treated in the same way, not only for themselves but in relation to each other and to the whole, and that complex of tensions and relations are the things which underlie successful portraiture and, indeed, any other form of visual art.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of John Dowie is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Audio source

National Library of Australia, Hazel de Berg collection

Related people

John Dowie AM

Related information

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

The Gallery

Visit us, learn with us, support us or work with us! Here’s a range of information about planning your visit, our history and more!

The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night

Support your Portrait Gallery

We depend on your support to keep creating our programs, exhibitions, publications and building the amazing portrait collection!

Visiting the Gallery
Visiting the Gallery
Visiting the Gallery
Visiting the Gallery

Plan your visit

Timed ticketing, location, accessibility and amenities

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency