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First NPG exhibition of the year celebrates love, affection and connection

The National Portrait Gallery has officially opened its first exhibition of the year, highlighting love, affection, and connection with Australian Love Stories. 

After moving online during the pandemic, the exhibition is the physical incarnation of Australian Love Stories online. Opening to the public tomorrow, Saturday 20 March, with more than 80 real life love stories hanging on the walls of the Gallery, the exhibition draws on contemporary portraiture and brings to life key elements of storytelling.

Presenting a selection of significant Australian works from the last two centuries, Sandra Bruce, NPG director of collection and exhibitions and co-curator of Australian Love Stories, said she is excited to finally see the exhibition open to the public.

“We planned on having the Love Stories exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery of London open in June last year, but this time last year we were all going into shutdown because of COVID so that was off the cards,” Ms Bruce said.

“As we got closer to the end of last year, we thought let’s approach 2021 with a positive attitude and assume we’ll finally be able to do a physical exhibition. It became quite an evolution and we worked it up into what is ultimately a show we’re very proud of because we’ve been able to do the gamut of what I think love means for Australia.”

According to Ms Bruce, Australian Love Stories includes colonial works right through to very contemporary new commissions created for the exhibition. Included in the commissions is a new portrait of Jimmy Barnes AO and Jane Barnes lying on a bed of roses handpicked from their garden. Their four-decade long relationship has been encapsulated in the image taken by their nephew Jesse Lizotte, showing that the bounds of their love extends beyond the romantic.

“Our family is really close and that’s a big love,” said Jane Barnes.

“They’re there for us in bad times and good times and I think that’s part of our love that’s grown over the years.”

As one of the iconic Australia love stories, Jimmy and Jane warmed the hearts of many last year with their online family singalongs, performed in their home during the 2020 lockdowns.

Jimmy said he met Jane in Canberra in 1979 at the Australian National University and from the moment he saw her, he was smitten.

“We met in Canberra in 1979, the 22nd of November at 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” he said.

“I think we we’re lucky. We found each other and it took time for us to really grow into each other.”

“That’s where love comes from,” said Ms Barnes.  

A commissioned portrait of prominent Australian journalists and broadcasters Stan Grant and Tracey Holmes also hangs in the exhibition. Partners for more than 20 years, the setting for their new portrait was the Yarrangobilly River in the Snowy Mountains: a place connecting Stan’s Wiradjuri heritage and Tracey’s link to her Chinese forebears, who settled in the area.

Australian journalists and broadcasters Stan Grant and Tracey Holmes view their portrait with photographer Nic Walker in the exhibition galleries. Image supplied by the National Portrait Gallery

Ms Bruce described the exhibition as a patchwork quilt that tells a variety of stories.

“We’re really hoping we’ll take advantage of our relatively safe Canberra bubble for these next few months … this is something everyone can walk into and hopefully it will bring a smile to their face,” she said.

NPG director Karen Quinlan said the exhibition presents a selection of significant Australian works from the last two centuries that together offer a rich insight into what it is to be human.

“After a tumultuous year where being together with loved ones was not always possible, we are excited to present an exhibition that celebrates togetherness, connection and love – romantic love as well as the importance of family and community,” she said.

Australian Love Stories opens on 20 March and will run until 1 August.

Tickets are available at: https://portrait.gov.au/exhibitions/australian-love-stories-2020

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