18 March 2019
I am greatly saddened to hear of the passing of Mr Edmund Capon AM OBE, and extend my sincerest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.
Edmund’s contribution to the visual arts, and to museum practice in Australia, is inestimable.
Born in London in 1940, he obtained a Master of Philosophy in Chinese art and archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, and studied 20th-century painting at the Courtauld Institute of Art. His museum career, and abiding interest in Asian art and culture, was formalised during his time at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1966-1978, working first in the Textile Department and then in the Far Eastern Section.
In 1978, Edmund was appointed Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales for a three year term. The first internationally-trained art historian and curator to lead the organisation, he retired in 2011 after 33 years in the role.
His knowledge, passion and commitment turned the Gallery into an internationally renowned showcase for art. Within his first decade he had more than doubled the Gallery’s annual attendance and his ground breaking 1983 blockbuster, The Entombed Warriors, saw a record 800,000 visitors.
During his tenure he also oversaw two building expansions, established an acquisitions foundation, undertook significant collection development and curated many important exhibitions.
He was a world expert in his field, publishing several books and catalogues, as well as producing the 1988 documentary Meishu – Travels in Chinese Art for the ABC and China Central Television and the landmark 2013 documentary The Art of Australia for the ABC and BBC.
On 10 June 1994, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in recognition of service to the arts, and in 2003 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the United Kingdom government.
Describing himself as a student of life, art, civilisation and the humanities, the often flamboyant and sometimes irreverent Edmund Capon has left a lasting impression on Australia’s cultural landscape.