Betty Churcher

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Betty Churcher

Elizabeth Ann Dewar Cameron

(1931-01-11)11 January 1931
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Died31 March 2015(2015-03-31) (aged 84)
EducationSomerville House
Alma materRoyal College of Art
Courtauld Institute of Art
Australian National University
OccupationArts administrator
Known forDirector of the National Gallery of Australia (1990–1997)
Spouse(s)Roy Churcher (1955–2014)
ChildrenPeter Churcher, Ben Churcher, Tim Churcher, Paul Churcher

Elizabeth Ann Dewar "Betty" Churcher AO (née Cameron; 11 January 1931 – 31 March 2015) was an Australian arts administrator, best known as director of the National Gallery of Australia from 1990 to 1997. She was also a painter in her own right earlier in her life. She won a travelling scholarship to Europe and attended the London Royal College of Art. She received a Master of Arts from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London in 1977. After death she was described by one writer as "a seminal figure in the arts sector, a superior curator and administrator as well as a gifted communicator who introduced Australians to the world of art outside the national collections."[1]


Born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Betty Churcher attended from age 7 to 15 Somerville House school, paid for by her grandmother.[2] At Somerville House, she was taught art by Patricia Prentice. After leaving school, Churcher studied under artist Caroline Barker.[3][4]

She left school after grade 10, because her father did not think she needed a higher education.[2] Between 1972 and 1975, Churcher was art critic for The Australian newspaper. She was the Dean of School of Art and Design and taught Art History at the progressive Phillip Institute of Technology (now RMIT University) between 1982 and 1987, and director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia from 1987 to 1990. She left after disagreements with Robert Holmes à Court about the gallery's acquisition of a Pierre Bonnard painting.[5] She was then appointed director of the Australian National Gallery. She hosted several television shows in the 1990s and authored several books, including The Art of War about war artists. Her son is the artist Peter Churcher.

While director of the National Gallery, she was dubbed "Betty Blockbuster" because of her love of blockbuster exhibitions and for her love of movies. Churcher initiated the building of new galleries on the eastern side of the building, opened in March 1998, to house large-scale temporary exhibitions. She changed the name of the Gallery from the Australian National Gallery to its current title. During her tenure the museum also purchased Golden Summer, Eaglemont by Arthur Streeton for $3.5 million. This was the last great picture from the Heidelberg School still in private hands.[6]

External images
2008 photograph by Dean Golja

In 1996 a portrait of Churcher painted by her son, Peter Churcher and titled Betty at Home was a finalist in the Archibald Prize. The prize is awarded for the "best portrait painting preferentially of some man or woman distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics".[7] Davida Allen painted a portrait of her in 1990, titled Hey Betty.

In 2001, she was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.[8]

Churcher dedicated her time to displaying hidden artworks and lesser known acquisitions of the National Gallery of Australia in a television program called Hidden Treasures on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Betty was married to Roy (1933–2014)[9] and had four sons and seven grandchildren.

Betty Churcher died of cancer on 31 March 2015 at the age of 84.[1]



  • Churcher, Betty (1973). Understanding Art. Adelaide: Rigby. ISBN 0-85179-699-0.
  • Churcher, Betty (1984). Molvig The Lost Antipodean. Melbourne: Penguin. ISBN 0-7139-1524-2.
  • — (2005). The Art of War. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0-522-85099-5.
  • — (2011). Notebooks. The Miegunyah Press. ISBN 978-0-522-85842-6.
  • Churcher, Betty; Lucy Quinn (2013). Treasures of Canberra. Braddon, Australian Capital Territory: Halstead Press. ISBN 9781920831981.
  • — (2013). Adam & Sarah Explore Turner. Canberra: National Gallery of Australia. ISBN 9780642334374.
  • — (2014). Australian Notebooks. Melbourne: Miegunyah Press. ISBN 9780522864199.
  • – (2015). The Forgotten Notebook. Melbourne: Miegunyah Press. ISBN 9780522868678.

Critical studies and reviews[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sydney Morning Herald, 31 March 2015. Retrieved 1 April 2015
  2. ^ a b "Betty Churcher – Interview transcript tape 1". Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  3. ^ Cooke, Glenn R. (2007). "Barker, Caroline (1894–1988)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Archived from the original on 11 March 2018. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  4. ^ de Silva, Greg (29 April 2015). "Elizabeth Anne Dewar (Betty) Churcher AO, AM: 1931 – 2015". Art Almanac. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  5. ^ "A Life Well Drawn" by Kate Legge, The Weekend Australian Magazine, 29–30 March 2014, pp. 10–14
  6. ^ Green, Pauleen (ed) (2003). Building the Collection. National Gallery of Australia. p. 174. ISBN 0-642-54202-3.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "Archibald Prize 07". Art Gallery NSW. Retrieved 19 July 2007.
  8. ^ "Victorian Honour Roll of Women 2018" (PDF). Victorian Government. p. 32. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 August 2019. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  9. ^ "Roy Churcher – Obituary", The Canberra Times, 3 January 2015

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by
James Mollison
Director of the National Gallery of Australia
Succeeded by
Brian Kennedy