Since 20 March, gallery-goers have been able to let all that pent up emotion out and to feast on love, affection and connection in all its myriad forms and permutations—from the romantic to the platonic, between friends, lovers, creative collaborators and within families and communities.

Drawing on gems from the National Portrait Gallery Collection and other public and private collections around Australia, the exhibition features more than 200 artworks including photography, painting, works on paper and small objects. At its heart are the real-life love stories shared.

Wesley Enoch and David McAllister, 2020 by Peter Brew-Bevan.

Using contemporary portraiture and the storytelling intrinsic to the genre, more than 80 stories are featured – from the enduring to the forbidden, familial, platonic, unrequited, obsessive, scandalous and creative, the famous, the infamous and the little-known.

You will see portraits of well-known Australian partnerships—from Kath and Kim to Bob and Blanche, Baz and Catherine to Ruby and Archie

There are portraits of families, including John Brack’s paintings of his ‘ruffian’ daughters and Vincent Namatjira’s series of portraits inspired by his great-grandfather Albert.

More modern-day portraits of some of Australia’s favourite couples—Asher Keddie and Vincent Fantauzzo, Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown, Nick and Susie Cave, and Kylie Kwong and Nell—are included, while iconic works by artists including Rupert Bunny, Agnes Goodsir, Tom Roberts, Charles Blackman, Davida Allen, George Lambert, The Huxleys, Richard Larter and Del Kathryn Barton are also on show.

Kath & Kim, c. 2011 by John Tsiavis.

A highlight are four new portraits of high-profile Australian couples, commissioned exclusively for the exhibition, including David McAllister and Wesley Enoch, Stan Grant and Tracey Holmes, John Bell and Anna Volska, and Jimmy and Jane Barnes.

In addition, Canberra-based glass and mixed media artist Harriet Schwarzrock has been commissioned to create a luminous installation for the Gallery that responds to the theme of connectedness.

Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown, 2006 by Peter Brew-Bevan Photographer, inkjet print on paper, 99.5 cm x 74.5 cm. Collection National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, © Peter Brew-Bevan.

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. We are grateful to be able to work with our institutional colleagues from around Australia, including the National Gallery of Victoria, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the National Museum of Australia, and other important collections such as the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, to bring this life-affirming exhibition to fruition,” Ms Quinlan said.

The Australian Love Stories exhibition accompanies Australian Love Stories Online, an interactive exhibition launched in August 2020 as a way for the NPG to continue to engage with audiences during the COVID-19 related Gallery closure. The online version allows visitors to navigate their way through a series of stories and portraits, as a choose-your-own adventure. At the end they are given their own ‘love profile’ based on where their love interests led them.


What: Australian Love Stories at the National Portrait Gallery
Where: Parkes Place, Parkes
When: Exhibition runs daily from Saturday 20 March until Sunday 1st August. Hours: 10 am-5 pm
Tickets: $15/$12/$10