Art world mourns death of Judy Cassab, 95


Australia is mourning the death of one of the country's most acclaimed portrait painters.

Holocaust survivor Judy Cassab has died in Sydney at the age of 95 and is being remembered as a prolific artist who inspired a generation of painters.

Cassab was the first female artist to win the Archibald Prize twice - both times in the 1960s, for her portraits of Stan Rapotec and Margo Lewers.

These works and others are considered a significant part of the rich tapestry of Australian painting.

"She is very much part of the story of the post-war period," said Anne Ryan, who curates the Australian wing at the Art Gallery of NSW.

"And she was a true artist in the sense that she was always working. She couldn't not draw or paint."

Cassab was born in Vienna in 1920 to Hungarian-Jewish parents. Like so many other Jewish families, her family was torn apart by the Nazi occupation.

"Despite enduring the horrors of the Holocaust, she was an incredibly positive person and her aim in life, which she very much fulfilled, was to make a positive contribution to the country which she adopted - Australia - in 1951," NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said.

Artist Kevin Connor sat alongside Cassab on the board of the Art Gallery of NSW for many years.

The two formed a decades long friendship and shared the same birthday.

"She was a much loved person, by everybody she knew," Connor said.

Over the years, Cassab would paint two portraits of Connor.

The precision of her work was one of her strengths, he said.

"She could concentrate and get a likeness very quickly and that was her great ability."

A prolific artist, she painted the portraits of many high-profile Australians including Frank Packer, Margaret Whitlam, Justice Michael Kirby and actor Jack Thompson.

"Her art was very much a compulsion for her and so she sought other subjects as well. She loved painting and drawing the landscape and she was interested in abstraction," Ms Ryan said.

Cassab once said in a television interview "a gift is a responsibility and it's not enough to have it".

The Art Gallery of New South Wales will show some of Cassab's art, including her Archibald winning portraits, this week, in her memory.

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