Portraits of the Famous and Infamous

What a great title for a book – it was used by Rex Nan Kivell (1898-1977), for his self-published encyclopaedia of portraits of those people from the 15th to the 20th century, who had links with Australasia and the Pacific.  A colourful character himself, Nan Kivell collected the portraits that went into the book. He was a major contributor to the collections of the National Library of Australia. At present an exhibition of works related to Nan Kivell’s book is on display in the NLA’s  ‘Treasures’ Gallery.

I took the time while attending a lunchtime talk on the exhibition to practice a bit of portraiture myself, along with capturing some of the faces that appeared on the screen during the talk.

Faces real and projected, pen and ink, 4 November 2015

Faces real and projected, pen and ink, 4 November 2015

Up in the top right-hand corner is Nat Williams, the curator of the exhibition. Below him are Abraham Ortelius, the map maker; Betsey Broughton, survivor of a Maori revenge attack, who lived into her 80’s and is buried about an hour and a half’s drive from Canberra at the charmingly named Bong Bong cemetery. Sydney Spence a close friend of Nan Kivell’s and co-producer of the book and a partially finished sketch of Kalaimanokaho’owaha, a Hawaiian Chief.

Among the anecdotes that Nat shared was, that on being shown a map of Melbourne, Robert-Louis Stevenson said “When I think of Melbourne I vomit”. I can only hope for Melbournians sake that this may be inaccurate. I’ve only just been disabused of the idea that the quote, long attributed to Mark Twain, that “Newcastle [in New South Wales] consists of a long street with a graveyard at one end with no bodies in it, and a gentleman’s club at the other with no gentlemen in it” has neither primary or early secondary sources to attribute it to Twain.

Unfortunately I ran out of time and couldn’t make it to see the exhibition, but it’s on for another month so it will go on the ‘must see’ list.

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