THE Canberra visual arts community has been saddened to learn of the death last night, October 11, at his Melbourne home of Andrew Sayers.
Sayers, the inaugural director of the National Portrait Gallery and former director of the National Museum of Australia, made his last major public appearance at the opening of the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in July, where his portrait of art historian Tim Bonyhady was a finalist this year. During his illness Sayers had returned to his early love of painting and his revealing self-portrait was featured in the 2014 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize
Born in England in 1957, Sayers came to Australia with his parents at age six. He graduated in Art History from the University of Sydney, later working at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Newcastle Region Art Gallery. In 1985 he moved to Canberra, later becoming Assistant Director (Collections) at the National Gallery of Australia. His landscape show “New Worlds from Old” is still regarded as one of the NGA’s most significant exhibitions.
Sayers was appointed director of the new National Portrait Gallery in April 1998, also keeping up a scholarly practice and writing “Australian Art” for the Oxford History of Art series. In June 2000 he secured John Webber’s portrait “Captain James Cook RN” at a cost of $5.3 million. A noted lover of architecture, he devoured books on the subject before overseeing the planning and execution of the new Portrait Gallery, opened by Kevin Rudd in late 2008.
He left the NPG for the directorship of the National Museum of Australia from which he retired in 2013 around the time his illness arose.
Sayers is survived by his wife Perry, and their children Ianthe, Hanako and Ella, who have announced that an event to celebrate Sayer’s life will be held in Canberra in the coming months. In lieu of flowers, they have asked friends to make a donation to Four Winds Festival – fourwinds.com.au – or
Kosciuszko Huts Association – khuts.org