Press Release – National Library’s Sibley Acquistion

Monday, February 21, 2000 – National Library Australia

The National Library, Canberra, has acquired the 1959 Archibald Prize oil-portrait painted by Andrew Sibley of the Brisbane author, poet and journalist David Rowbotham.

Announcing this yesterday, the library said it regarded the acquisition of the 40-year-old painting as historically and artistically important to its Pictorial Collection. The picture is an exciting addition.

The collection is made up of 40,000 original works of art and 500,000 photographs documenting mainly the 19th and 20th centuries.

It contains many rare portraits of significant Australian writers including such figures as Henry Lawson, Christopher Brennan, Dorothea Mackellar, Kenneth Slessor, Judith Wright, A.D.Hope, Rosemary Dobson, Les Murray.

The collection has become a library priority. Images 1, a special Internet programme, will allow public access to the collection on the library’s website. People will be able to obtain copies of paintings for research.

Exhibitions from the collection will travel Australia.
Andrew Sibley, of Victoria, painted the Rowbotham portrait 40 years ago when he was living and had a studio in Brisbane.

It is a painting of 121.92 x 91.44 cm, done in oil and caustic wax on compositon board, and bears the inscription: “The Studio, 225 Brunswick Rd, Valley, Bris. David Rowbotham, author poet & journalist – Sibley ’58.”

At the time of painting it, Sibley (now 66) was 25 and starting his career, and Rowbotham (now 75) was 34, already a widely known Australian writer and well known in Brisbane.

The portrait, although it was hung as the runner-up in the 1959 Archibald Prize, was not wanted, not even by the sitter. Neither was another picture Sibley painted at the same time.

This was the portrait he did of the art historian and critic the late Dr Gertrude Langer. Sibley subsequently donated the Langer portrait to the Queensland Art Gallery.

The Rowbotham portrait, believed to be now worth twice as much as its acquisition vale of $18,000, was unsaleably held by the late Sydney art dealer Rudy Komon.

At Rudy Komon’s death, Andrew Sibley rescued it for his own collection in Melbourne, where the Melbourne medico and art collector Dr Jeff Long spotted it and said: “I went to school with that fellow.”

It became a prominent feature of Dr Long’s surgery for many years till he decided, on retirement, to offer it for acquisition to the National Library, where it would contribute to the national heritage and be in safe keeping.

The painting is in good condition, and framed. Its acquisition is acknowledged on the Internet simultaneously with this press release.

The work of Andrew Sibley has been consistently hung in the Archibald Prize since 1959, and his latest entry has been a portrait of the former Brisbane actress Sigrid Thornton.

He has therefore put three artists with Brisbane connections into the Archibald: Langer, Thornton, Rowbotham.

Sibley and Rowbotham became friends soon after Mr Rowbotham joined The Courier-Mail as reporter in 1955.

Mr Rowbotham and Dr Long, longstanding friends, were schoolfellows at the Toowoomba Grammar School. Mr Rowbotham said yesterday: “I’m delighted by Dr Long’s gesture in passing the picture to the National Library.

“But this is really Andrew Sibley’s moment. He has waited a long time for this kind of national recognition, and the prices, he is getting now.”

Mr Sibley said: “The sitters never seem to like my portraits of them, and that includes Dame June Bronhill. They don’t recognise themselves. Yet Jeff Long immediately recognised David Rowbotham.

“The secret of this business is timing. Make sure you live. I’m glad Sigrid Thornton seems to like the Archibald portrait I’ve just done of her. I’m honoured they’ve taken the Rowbotham picture.

“I said to David what Picasso is supposed to have said of his sitters. Give it time. He would grow to look like his portrait.”