Vale to former National Portrait Gallery director Angus Trumble

News leaked to the industry this week that Angus Trumble had passed away suddenly (1964 – 2022). The exuberant former gallery and academic director was only 58 years old.

Trumble served as Director at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra from 2014 to 2018. Trumble was the fourth director in the history of the National Portrait Gallery, appointed under the Brandis ministry in 2013.

In November 2017, offering 14 months notice, Trumble announced that he would be leaving the Museum to pursue his own writing projects.

In an exit interview, he told ArtsHub that he “felt that, especially for a one-of-a-kind art museum, it was essential to keep it fresh – to keep it alive – by changing directors regularly. I thought five years was fair. If you stay, you might get repetitive and a bit boring.

Most would agree that Trumble was anything but boring; this week’s tributes have often cited him as a funny and brilliant storyteller, scholar, curator and friend.

Moments like these evoke the best memories. One of Trumble’s best was as part of the Museum Dance Off – a global initiative in 2018 – when Trumble joined his team in a skit to Kylie Minogue’s hit song I can’t get you out of my head.

It was this energetic personality that will be missed by many. But that’s not just what defined Trumble.

A first-time director with a long-standing legacy

In an official statement, the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) paid tribute to Trumble this week, saying: ‘Angus was unwavering in his commitment to the institution, at the same time infusing all areas of the Gallery’s work with his spirit. , his distinctive charm and erudition. and scholarship.’

“Visitors and staff alike were drawn to his intelligence and creativity,” the NPG added.

Trumble guided the institution through difficult times, including the start of structural repairs to the building in 2018. During his tenure, the Gallery achieved many milestones, including becoming a statutory authority, establishing the Foundation and 20th anniversary celebrations, and significant collection growth. .

The exhibits developed during his time demonstrate his ability to bridge the popular and the academic, exhibits such as In the flesh, So Fine: Contemporary female artists are writing Australian history, The Popular Pet Show, Dempsey’s People: A Folio of British Street Portraits 1824–1844 and Starstruck: portraits of Australian films.

Trumble said his proudest moment was an exhibition with a very light footprint and a small visit, Dempsey’s People: A Folio of British Street Portraits 1824-1844 (exhibited in 2017).

“It was cheap to put on, and yet he was an artist who represented a whole forgotten iceberg of fellow portrait painters who produced thousands of portraits in the 19e century, which ended up in flea markets. I’m happy to say he’ll be touring the Tate [in London]Trumble explained.

He was also a world-renowned scholar.

In a previous interview with ArtsHub, he said, “I was a first-time director, which was a challenge for everyone. I had worked for two directors – Ron Radford at the Art Gallery of South Australia and Amy Meyers at Yale [in the United States, where Trumble was posted for 11 years in a curatorial capacity]. They are as different from each other as possible, but this experience ultimately gave me a very clear picture of the type of director I wanted to be and I feel like I achieved it.

The key to this was trusting his staff.

He continued: “You never know what’s going to work and what won’t… You have to be willing to take risks – and I know that’s so cliché. One thing a director has to do is say, “This is what we do. It can be difficult because people give you every reason not to. But you just have to say, “I heard you and I respect your point of view, but we do it anyway.”

Read: Angus Trumble reflects on his time at the National Portrait Gallery

In the middle of the interview with Trumble, the fire alarm in the gallery went off – but nothing fazed him; it went on for an entire phrase, not missing a beat – a testament to its tangy, light-hearted character.

His enduring comment which I carry over was: “My great hope is that we never lose sight that our most important philanthropist is the taxpayer of the Commonwealth. The total commonwealth budget for all collection agencies would buy half a torpedo in a submarine – we’re not talking large sums of money. I would hate to think we lose sight of that.

Who was Angus Trumble?

Born in Melbourne, Trumble studied fine art and history at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1986, before interning at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and studying for an MA at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome and at the University of Melbourne.

From 1987 to 1991, he was assistant to the Governor of Victoria, J. Davis McCaughey.

In 1994, Trumble won a Fulbright scholarship to continue her studies at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. In 1996, he was appointed Associate Curator (later Curator) of European Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia. He organized and wrote the catalogs of exhibitions, in particular bohemian london and Love & Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria.

He was appointed Curator (later Senior Curator) of Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art in May 2003, where he served until 2014 when he was appointed Director of the National Portrait Gallery of Australia .

Between 2019 and 2022 he was a senior researcher at the National Museum of Australia. In 2015 he was made a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Human Sciences.

He was the author of A brief history of the smile (2003) and The finger: a manual (2010), and co-author (with Andrea Wolk Rager) of Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century.

He regularly contributed to Times Literary Supplement, Burlington magazine, Paris magazine, Esopus magazine, and Australian book review.

Trumble died on October 11, 2022, at his home.

Julia P. Cluff