Edmund Capon, former Art Gallery of NSW director, dies at 78

Edmund Capon AM OBE, a beloved figure in the Australian arts community, has died of cancer in his native England. He was 78.

Capon is best remembered for his contributions to the Art Gallery of NSW, where he served as director from 1978 to 2011. During his 33-year tenure, the notoriously ebullient Capon ushered in a slew of changes, including the addition of an Asian gallery and Australia’s first curator of contemporary art. He nearly tripled the gallery’s collection of artworks from 10,500 in 1978 to 29,000 in 2011.

He also oversaw important acquisitions, such as Picasso’s Nude in a rocking chair and Paul Cézanne’s painting Banks of the Marne.

“Edmund’s dedicated service to the gallery, which he transformed into one of the most-loved cultural institutions in Australia, was extraordinary,” Michael Brand, the gallery’s current director, said in a statement.

“We extend our heartfelt condolences to Edmund’s family and close friends, in particular his wife Joanna and his children. Edmund will be deeply missed by current and former members of gallery staff as well as by volunteers and Art Gallery Society members.”

Arts Minister Mitch Fifield said in a statement that Capon’s “knowledge, passion and commitment turned the gallery into an internationally renowned showcase for art”.

Originally from London, where he worked in the Far Eastern department of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Capon moved to Australia with his wife, Joanna, in 1978. He was known for his enthusiasm and playfulness, once describing his interests as “opera, giraffes and trees, especially eucalypts”.

In 1994, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of service to the arts. In 2003, he became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Since 2014, Capon also served as chair of the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney.

Esther Anatolitis, executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, said in a statement that “Edmund will be remembered for his rigour, his generosity and his evolving vision, which deepened over time to champion the full diversity of Australian contemporary art in our Asian context.”

“Edmund will be missed by artists and arts colleagues all over Australia,” she added. “His legacy infuses arts institutions across the country and around the world.”

Main image: Screenshot from video by Art Gallery NSW

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