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Cook portrait cornerstone for Canberra gallery

One of the world's most significant portraits of Captain James Cook has been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, by the Prime Minister, John Howard.

The iconic painting was purchased with $2.8 million from the Federal Government and through two donations, each of $1.25 million, from Rosemount Estates Pty Ltd, Australia's largest family owned winery, and from John Schaeffer, businessman and Australia's leading collector of 19th century European paintings.

'Painted by renowned artist, John Webber, the 1782 Portrait of Captain Cook is in pristine condition,' Federal Minister for the Arts, Peter McGauran, said.

'I am certain it will be a major drawcard to the National Portrait Gallery-one of the nation's foremost cultural institutions,' he said.

'I congratulate Rosemount Estates and Mr Schaeffer for their generous donations which made the acquisition possible.

'The donations were the biggest cash gifts in history for the acquisition of a single work of art by an Australian national cultural institution-all Australians benefit from such acts of philanthropy,' Mr McGauran said.

Only five 18th century portrait paintings of Captain James Cook are known to exist. The other four are in public collections-three in the United Kingdom and one in New Zealand.

John Webber, the artist of the 1782 portrait, accompanied Cook on his third and last voyage (1776-1780). He painted the portrait following Cook's death and it is a reflection of the vision, determination and character of the great navigator.

The Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Mr Andrew Sayers, acknowledged the support of the two private sector donors in purchasing the painting: 'Without Rosemount Estates and Mr Schaeffer this immensely important work of art would not have returned to Australia.'

Mr Robert Oatley, Rosemount Estate's Founder, said the company's donation was a way of not only supporting an important Australian public gallery in acquiring an invaluable piece of national heritage, but also in recognition of the support given to the winery by Australians.

'Rosemount's donation reflects my view that the National Portrait Gallery had to seize the opportunity to acquire this painting to ensure that a previously privately owned important work of art be displayed in a major public gallery in Australia.

'Without the support of our customers, Rosemount would not be the successful winery it is today and our involvement in the return of the historic Cook portrait to Australia is one way to say thank you,' Mr Oatley said.

Mr Schaeffer said: 'I am delighted to assist the Gallery to acquire this important portrait for the enjoyment of the people of Australia.

'The portrait is going to the most sympathetic and appropriate destination in the new National Portrait Gallery. Such a significant historical work will be a foundation painting for the Gallery; the portrait will be a cornerstone of the collection for the future.'

Mr Sayers added that Mr Schaeffer has been a great friend of the National Portrait Gallery. 'Since early this year we have been delighted to have an icon of Australian 20th century portraiture from the Schaeffer collection - George Lambert's 1923 Self-portait - as a centrepiece of the Gallery's main display,' he said.

Mr Richard England, Liquidator of Southern Equities Corporation Limited (In Liquidation) said that he was most pleased that the picture was being returned to Australia for display by an Australian cultural institution in circumstances where there will be a substantial recovery for the creditors and a successful end to his investigations to locate and proceedings to recover the Portrait.

© Scoop Media

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