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Frank Norton

1916-1983

Frank Norton (1916-1983), son of artist Charles Basil Norton, was born in New Zealand and arrived in Sydney in 1917. A gifted technical artist in his own right, Norton studied painting at the East Sydney Technical College from 1931 and worked on 'sixty milers', the coal ships running between Sydney and Newcastle. Whilst studying, he observed and sketched the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ships at Garden Island and upon graduating in 1936 he earned a scholarship to join and document naval ships travelling between New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia and Western Australia. After graduation, Norton also produced work for P&O and E&A Lines, travelling to Japan and China, before arriving in England in April 1939.

With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Norton acquired small commissions from the Royal Indian Navy and British Department of Information, but by 1940 his artistic career declined and he returned to Australia where he married Audrey Horn, whom he first met in 1934. The following year Norton joined the RAN and was appointed by the Australian War Memorial (AWM) as an official war artist. In this capacity he documented RAN, and occasionally RAAF, operations in the Mediterranean and the Pacific. This collection, held by the AWM, highlights his strength in draughtsmanship and his ability for the faithful depiction of ships even in the midst of intense fighting.

At the end of the war, Norton was employed at the National Art School for the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme for ex-servicemen. He also produced illustrations for various publications. Norton received leave in 1952 when he was once again appointed an official war artist to document the RAN during the Korean War (1950-1953).

In 1958 Norton was appointed Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) and moved to Perth with his family, which now included three daughters, one of whom is artist Lynne Norton. Frank Norton held the post at AGWA until his retirement in 1976. As Director he concentrated mainly on building up the contemporary, Indigenous and sculpture collections. He continued to sketch and paint the maritime subjects he knew so well throughout his later years and died in 1983.