Sir John Campbell Longstaff (1861 – 1941) was an  Australian painter, war artist and a five-time winner of the Archibald Prize. He was a cousin of Will Longstaff, also a painter, as well as a war artist. Longstaff was born at ClunesVictoria, second son of Ralph Longstaff, storekeeper and Janet (Jessie) Campbell. John was educated at a boarding school in Miners Rest and Clunes State School. He later studied at the Melbourne National Gallery School, after his father initially disapproved of his artistic ambitions. Longstaff’s talent was recognised by George Folingsby. He married Rosa Louisa (Topsy) Crocker on 20 July 1887 Powlett Street, East Melbourne.

He won the National Gallery of Victoria‘s first traveling scholarship for his 1887 narrative painting Breaking the News (which inspired a 1912 film of the same name), and John and his wife sailed from Melbourne for London in September 1887. In January 1888 they travelled to Paris, where John exhibited in the Paris Salon. He later moved to London, where he painted many portraits. He returned to Australia in 1894 and was given several commissions. He occupied a studio at Grosvenor Chambers in Melbourne from 1897 to 1900. The National Gallery of Victoria assumed ownership of The Sirens under terms of the scholarship and bought his large landscape Gippsland, Sunday night, 20 February 1898. He traveled to London again in 1901, where he exhibited with the Royal Academy. Longstaff was appointed an official war artist with the Australian Infantry Force in the First World War. He made several portraits of officers in the military. On his return to Australia he won several awards and was given distinguished positions, such as his appointment to President of the Victorian Artists Society in 1924 and Trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria in 1927. He was knighted in 1928, the first Australian artist to have had this honour.

In 1924, Longstaff met Miss Jessica Harcourt, at the time a theatre programme seller, and later actress, in Sydney and later called “Australia’s loveliest girl”. He was struck by her beauty and painted her twice. In 1925 he exhibited Harcourt’s portrait with Twenty Melbourne Painters at the Athenaeum Hall. Longstaff was happy with his subject, regarding Harcourt as “almost a perfect type of feminine beauty”, and it was considered “one of the best things he had ever done.” His 1929 portrait of the artist Ellis Rowan was the first national portrait of an Australian woman. The Art Gallery of South Australia holds his portraits of Paris Nesbit and The Artist’s Wife.

Alfred Felton