With James Fairfax’s passing yesterday, Australia has lost one of its greatest arts patrons and philanthropists, and the National Gallery of Australia has lost one of its founders. Coming from Sydney’s well-known Fairfax family, distinguished for their proprietorship of many of the nation’s leading newspapers, James played many roles, including working for the family firm. His interesting and affectionate autobiographical memoir of 1991 My regards to Broadway is well worth reading, for the light it throws not only on his own life but on Australian society generally. After attending Geelong Grammar in Victoria, James took a degree at Balliol College at Oxford, and later returned to Australia where in due course he took over the family firm from his father Sir Warwick.
James became a great patron of the arts, being a major donor to many museums and galleries, but in particular to the Art Gallery of New South Wales and to the National Gallery of Australia. He was connected to the Australian art world throughout his life, counting many well-known artists and their dealers amongst his friends. His family’s connections with Australia’s art world were longstanding and his grandfather also enjoyed a reputation in Sydney as an art collector at the end of the 19th century.