Thomas Gleghorn OAM

May 10, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | ART | 10 Comments |

Tom was born in England in 1925 and came to Australia in 1928, his family settling on Lake Macquarie in New South Wales. He started painting at the age of 24, inspired by the works of William Dobell, who gave him early encouragement.

A stint in retail display design constituted his only ‘formal’ art training, but exhibiting in Sydney from 1954, he built a strong following and by the late 1950s, he was perhaps the most prominent visual artist in the country. He took out the Muswellbrook Prize, Blake Christus Prize, and Mosman Art Prizes in 1958 (and a score and more over his career).

Patrick White was an admirer and collector (he commissioned a portrait), and opened Tom’s first one-man show at Newcastle in 1959. White owned a number of Tom’s paintings and said they inspired him in the construction of several of his books.

Tom had been a finalist in the 1960 Helena Rubenstein travelling scholarship (won by Charles Blackman) but took out the scholarship in 1961 and his subsequent two years on the road through Europe honed his skills and knowledge. For two decades, Tom taught at leading art schools in Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide – by all accounts, his students loved him.

Tom was, from the first, a modernist and devotee of abstract painting but he was not a mere tachiste. He was particularly interested in solving textural problems, hence his later success with mixed media. Nor was he one who retreated into abstract expressionism to camouflage poor craftsmanship: his figurative work is highly skilled. His detail can also be telling: there is rarely a slapdash quality to his abstract work (compare his Drunken Buddha work to, say, Ian Fairweather’s pieces based on the same novel).

Canticle for the Drunken Buddha

Canticle for the Drunken Buddha

Robert Hughes was originally quite snippy about Tom (as Hughes could be with anyone), opining that his work was akin to “an illiterate with good handwriting.” De mortuis, nil nisi bonum, but Hughes tended to sacrifice patience, contemplation and appreciation upon the altar of a pithy line.

Exhibited and admired in private and corporate collections across the world, only recently (semi) retired at ninety, awarded the Order of Australia Medal for service to the arts in 2006, Tom has had a rich, prolific, crowded life filled with ‘painterliness’. A bon viveur, kind, witty and generous and still going strong (he celebrated his 90th over the June 2015 long weekend), this ‘illiterate’ has written a sterling account of and in his life and art.

Tom became a staunch Glenelg Tigers man, in part, because we had a sensational cellar...

Tom became a staunch Glenelg Tigers man, in part, because we had a sensational cellar…

[May 2016 Update: Unley Council has honoured Tom by appointing him Art Judge for the SALA Festival.  The prize is awarded to artists 60 years of age and over, whom Tom regards as spring chickens. We doubt anyone is better placed to assume this position.]


  1. Reply

    Patricia Pexton

    March 15, 2017

    He is related to my husbands family. He visited the family in Jarrow/South shields UK in the sixties and can remember he painted pictures on the envelopes of the letters he sent to his auntie mary. and his uncle George.

  2. Reply

    Les Buchanan

    July 27, 2017

    Nice to see Mr Gleghorn looking pretty spry and in good humour. If you are in contact with him tell him that three of his works - each entitled "Study for Bush Grave and Desert Flower" - which we bought in Adelaide in 1987, have since been hung in homes where we lived in London, Sofia, Cape Town, Rabat and finally here in Barcelona. They have been universally admired by our friends and loved by us.

    Les and Louise Buchanan Barcelona July 2017

    • Reply

      Lesley Jakobsen

      August 24, 2017

      Dear Mr & Mrs Buchanan, thank you for your message. We will see that it reaches Tom. Stay safe in beautiful Barcelona.

  3. Reply

    david sinclair

    January 13, 2018

    I remember tom from my early childhood as a mate of my father when they both worked at cardiff
    railway workshops.
    we used to visit the family at warners bay. Tom had a horse named lana turner and a foxie named Bing.
    when Tom moved on to better things we adopted bing who became the family pet for many years.
    though I was very young at the time I remember Tom as a facinating character.

  4. Reply

    Leigh Sutherland

    July 11, 2019

    I have inherited a picture of Tom Gleghorn 's from my parents. It is a black and white work from 1959 entitled Song of the Plains. It was always in pride of place in my parents' house and I believe was given to my father when he was studying at East Sydney with Tom. I am about to have some restoration work done on it as it has developed some brown spots over the years. I hope to keep it for many years and pass it on future generations.

  5. Reply

    Kay Cahill

    October 9, 2020

    I have a small painting on a wood board which was given to me( in exchange for one of my watercolours) by Mr.Gleghorn when I was a student at Belmore Tech.College. It is in the Dobell style with a "Girl with an Owl" and I attended the Blaxland Gallery in Sydney during school holidays to be there to paint images of Australia through the Eyes of Children.
    It was the best school holiday I had. I have tried to send a copy of the painting to Mr.Gleghorn through different sources but never get a reply, the last time was to Newcastle Gallery after I saw his virtual exhibition on the computer. I do not know if he is even interested in having a copy of this work, it would be nice to have somebody pass on my message to him.
    I want only for him to know I have been lucky to have him as a teacher, that was back in 1958.
    Regards Kay Cahill nee Kay Seehusen.

  6. Reply

    Lesley Jakobsen

    October 13, 2020

    Thanks Kay, we see Tom from time to time, and will pass your message on when we can.

  7. Reply

    Richard Bartholomew JASIOWSKI

    March 23, 2021

    Oh the memories ...... when I was young fella in my early 20s, I had the Good Fortune of getting a scholarship from the education department of South Australia to study .......
    to be or not to be ........ a primary school teacher ...... at where Bedford Park Teacher's/Teachers College. WELL!!! Those were the days, my friends. We thought they would never end. THE 1970'S. I think there was a moratorium then ........ in Australia ........ something to behold.
    And, to boot, inthe company Tom Gleghorn performing artists Trinder Neil Curnow Elizabeth Salisbury Graham Terry
    Peter Brinkworth Tony Andrew's Clems Latz Rob Morrison and that principal player 》guy called Richardson and that exquisite performer》Shaw - that Dean of Students - sure used to run the joint. A cast for the Ages!
    Thank You Tom Gleghorn for the part YOU played in my early years

  8. Reply

    Denise McCabe

    January 11, 2022

    I would like to find out if there are any of Tom Gleghorn's painting for sale. - can you help ?

    • Reply

      Lesley Jakobsen

      January 11, 2022

      Dear Denise, we aren't aware of this but if we hear we'll let you know.

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