Elizabeth Ann Dewar Cameron
11 January 1931
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
|Died||31 March 2015 (aged 84)|
Wamboin, New South Wales, Australia
|Alma mater||Royal College of Art|
Courtauld Institute of Art
Australian National University
|Known for||Director of the National Gallery of Australia (1990–1997)|
|Spouse(s)||Roy Churcher (1955–2014)|
|Children||Peter 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."
Born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, Betty Churcher attended from age 7 to 15 Somerville House school, paid for by her grandmother. At Somerville House, she was taught art by Patricia Prentice. After leaving school, Churcher studied under artist Caroline Barker.
She left school after grade 10, because her father did not think she needed a higher education. 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. 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.
|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". Davida Allen painted a portrait of her in 1990, titled Hey Betty.
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) and had four sons and seven grandchildren.
Betty Churcher died of cancer on 31 March 2015 at the age of 84.
| Director of the National Gallery of Australia