National Portrait Gallery (Australia)

The National Portrait Gallery (NGPA) in Canberra is a public art gallery containing portraits of prominent Australians. It was established in 1998 and moved to its present building on King Edward Terrace in December 2008.

National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery logo.svg
National Portrait Gallery building
National Portrait Gallery (Australia) is located in Australian Capital Territory
National Portrait Gallery (Australia)
National Portrait Gallery (Australia) is located in Australia
National Portrait Gallery (Australia)
National Portrait Gallery (Australia) (Australia)
Former name
National Library of Australia, Old Parliament House
EstablishedMay 1998; 24 years ago (1998-05)
LocationKing Edward Terrace, Parkes, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Coordinates35°18′00″S 149°08′02″E / 35.3°S 149.133889°E / -35.3; 149.133889Coordinates: 35°18′00″S 149°08′02″E / 35.3°S 149.133889°E / -35.3; 149.133889
TypePortrait gallery
ArchitectJohnson Pilton Walker
Public transit accessAction buses


In the early 1900s, the painter Tom Roberts was the first to propose that Australia should have a national portrait gallery, but it was not until the 1990s that the possibility began to take shape.

The 1992 exhibition Uncommon Australians – developed by the gallery's founding patrons, Gordon and Marilyn Darling – was shown in Canberra and toured to four state galleries, igniting the idea of a national portrait gallery. In 1994, under the management of the National Library of Australia, the gallery's first exhibition was launched in Old Parliament House. It was a further four years before the appointment of Andrew Sayers as inaugural Director signalled the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery as an institution in its own right, with a board, a budget and a brief to develop its own collection.

The collection was established in May 1998, and until 2008 was housed in Old Parliament House and in a nearby gallery on Commonwealth Place. The opening of displays in the refurbished Parliamentary Library and two adjacent wings of Old Parliament House in 1999 endorsed the gallery's status and arrival as an independent institution.

While the spaces of Old Parliament House proved adaptable to the National Portrait Gallery's programs, its growing profile and collection necessitated the move to a dedicated building. Funding for the A$87 million building was provided in the 2005 federal budget and Sydney-based architectural firm Johnson Pilton Walker was awarded the job of creating the gallery, with construction commencing in December 2006. The new National Portrait Gallery opened to the public on 4 December 2008[1] on King Edward Terrace, beside the High Court of Australia – by prime minister Kevin Rudd.

The permanent collectionEdit

The portrait gallery contains portraits of prominent Australians (by birth or association) who are important in their field of endeavour, or whose life sets them apart as an individual of long-term public interest.

In 2020, the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection stands at approximately 3000 portraits across a range of mediums – including photography, painting, drawing, multimedia, sculpture and textiles – and continues to grow through an acquisition and commissioning program tied to a judiciously applied collection criteria.


There are two exhibitions presented in tandem as the gallery's "National Portrait Prizes".

National Photographic Portrait PrizeEdit

The gallery’s National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) is a highlight of the Australian arts calendar. Judges select 40 to 50 finalists from thousands of entries from across the nation, with these comprising the annual NPPP exhibition.

Darling Portrait PrizeEdit

In March 2020 the inaugural Darling Portrait Prize for painted portraits, featuring a AUD$75,000 winner’s prize, was established.[2]

The inaugural prize was awarded to Anthea da Silva for her portrait of dancer and choreographer Elizabeth Cameron Dalman.[3]

The buildingEdit

The western face of the National Portrait Gallery building

Won through an open international design competition by Johnson Pilton Walker in 2005, the 14,000 square metres (150,000 sq ft) building provides exhibition space for approximately 500 portraits in a simple configuration of day-lit galleries.

The external form of the building responds to its site by using the building's geometry to connect with key vistas and alignments around the precinct. A series of five bays, each more than 70 metres (230 ft) long, are arranged perpendicular to the Land Axis referring to Walter Burley Griffin’s early concepts for the National Capital.

The National Portrait Gallery features a sequence of spaces leading from the Entrance Court defined by the two large cantilever concrete blades on the eastern side of the building, through the foyer to the fantastic gallery spaces. Each gallery receives controlled natural light from translucent glazed clerestory windows and views to the outside.

In April 2019, the gallery was closed for several months for rectification work to maintain the integrity of its building. The gallery reopened in September 2019.


The gallery is governed by the Board of the National Portrait Gallery of Australia (NGPA).[4]

Karen Quinlan AM was appointed director with effect from December 2018. She was formerly director of Bendigo Art Gallery for 18 years, and curator for three years before that.[5] At the time of her appointment was also Professor of Practice at the La Trobe Art Institute at Bendigo.[4][6]

Quinlan was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2019 Australia Day Honours list, "for her significant service to the visual arts and to higher education".[5]

In August 2022 Quinlan was appointed chief executive of Arts Centre Melbourne,[7] with the new role starting on 3 October 2022.[8]


  1. ^ "National Portrait Gallery website, "About the Gallery"". Archived from the original on 26 November 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
  2. ^ "Darling Portrait Prize (2020)". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 2 September 2022.
  3. ^ Galvin, Nick (5 March 2020). "Picture of strength wins inaugural Darling Portrait Prize". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  4. ^ a b "Ms Karen Quinlan appointed to lead the NPGA: 25 September 2018". National Portrait Gallery. 25 September 2018. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  5. ^ a b "Karen Quinlan made a Member of the Order of Australia". Public Galleries Association of Victoria (PGAV). 29 January 2019. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  6. ^ "Karen Quinlan AM". National Portrait Gallery people. 22 August 2022. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  7. ^ Martin, Amy (3 August 2022). "National Portrait Gallery director's departure announced". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  8. ^ "Karen Quinlan AM announced as new CEO of Arts Centre Melbourne". Australian Arts Review. 3 August 2022. Retrieved 8 September 2022.

External linksEdit