Portrait Gallery visionary Sayers dies

Charlotte 15 October 2015 2

Andrew Sayers Andrew Sayers, 2012 by Mark Mohell. Gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned (53.0 x 36.8 cm). Purchased by the National Portrait Gallery with funds provided by Marilyn Darling AC 2013. Accession number: 2013.9.

The visionary founding director of the National Portrait Gallery, Andrew Sayers AM, has died in Melbourne.

The 58-year-old former Canberran, who had in recent years pursued his own career as an artist, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year.

While Sayers ended his time in Canberra and in arts administration as director of the National Museum of Australia and chair of the Canberra Glassworks, he ran the Portrait Gallery during its exciting first 11 years.

Sayers was the driving force behind the creation of a dedicated building for the National Portrait Gallery, and presided over the highly-regarded national institution as that building took shape and was opened in 2008.

A spokeswoman for the Gallery said it would release a statement tomorrow. It provided the following biographical information and permission to use the above photograph.

Sayers was born in England in 1957 and moved to the Hawkesbury region of NSW at the age of six.

He was interested in art and a keen artist himself from a young age, and graduated in Art History at the University of Sydney in 1979.

Having been Registrar of Collections at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in 1981 he became Assistant Director at the Newcastle Region Art Gallery.

In 1985 he moved to Canberra to become Curator of Australian Drawings and then Assistant Director (Collections) at the National Gallery of Australia.

In 1989 he published Drawing in Australia, and in 1994 Aboriginal Artists of the 19th Century, a work for which he received the HE Stanner Award of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

Sayers was appointed Director of the new National Portrait Gallery in April 1998. While committed to the development of the NPG as a centre for biography and history, Sayers set the progressive character of the institution with The Possibilities of Portraiture (1999), comprising a mixture of historical and contemporary works in various media.

In his first year at the Gallery – while writing, in the early mornings, Australian Art for the Oxford History of Art series – he established policy, made press appearances, commissioned artworks, conceived exhibitions, wrote acquisition proposals for individual works and researched, wrote and edited text for display in the Gallery.

In June 2000, after six gruelling months of international negotiation, he secured John Webber’s portrait Captain James Cook RN at a cost of $5.3 million.

During his 11 years at the helm, staff of the Gallery increased fivefold, he conceived or worked in partnership to create the exhibitions Arthur Boyd Portraits (1999-2000); Heads of the People (2000); Nolan Heads (2001); Intimate Portraits (2002); Contemporary Australian Portraits (2002-2003); POL: Portrait of a generation (2003); To Look Within: Self-portraits in Australia (2004); The World of Thea Proctor (2005); Clifton Pugh Australians (2005-2006) and Open Air: Portraits in the landscape (2008).

Awarded an AM in 2010, Sayers retired from arts administration in 2013, thereafter devoting himself to his ‘private passion’ – painting.

His self-portrait featured in the 2014 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, and his depiction of art historian Tim Bonyhady was an Archibald Prize finalist for 2015.

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2 Responses to Portrait Gallery visionary Sayers dies
Holden Caulfield Holden Caulfield 10:44 pm 12 Oct 15

That is very sad news. Best to his family and friends.

Paul Costigan Paul Costigan 4:21 pm 12 Oct 15

Even though we all knew this was to happen soon – it is still sad news.

He had given up full time work and had recently commenced a new career as an artist.


There were many books he had planned to write.

Very sad.

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