Judy Cassab: a painter of compassion

November 4, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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Iconic artist Judy Cassab has passed away in Sydney at the age of 91 leaving a legacy of support for those seeking refuge from persecution.

She painted many works in her later years which she donated to Sydney’s Montefiore Home. Many of the residents have original Cassab’s gracing their bedroom walls.

Judy Cassab and her art

Judy Cassab with Marina Finlay and her art

Her son John Seed told J-Wire that the two-time winner of the Archibald Prize had never forgotten the warmth of the welcome she had received in seeking a new life in Australia when fleeing Communist Europe.

John Seed inherited his late mother’s artistic ability telling J-Wire he had begun his career as a sculptor at the age of 19 exhibiting in Sydney and London.

Seed was to become conservationist and focusing on rainforests but moved back to Sydney seven years ago “to help look after Judy”.  Judy Cassab remained active even through ill-health and was involved in a series of joint exhibitions with Seed combining her paintings and his sculptures.  He said: “We called these exhibitions ‘The Two of Us’. When she had developed

John Seed and Judy Cassab

John Seed and Judy Cassab

dementia it became one of our ways of communicating.”

Seed told J-Wire that he had grown up in a home richly involved in Sydney’s Jewish Hungarian society. It was our milieu. We would holiday in the Caravera Hotel in Blackheath…many Hungarian Jewish families would congregate there.”

Speaking of his Jewish upbringing, Seed said: “It was more culturally Jewish than religious. My Barmitzvah was the last formal religious education I experienced. Judy and her husband Yonche were quite ambivalent after their experiences during the Holocaust. But they always manifested their Jewishness as a cultural thing…and not so much as a religious one.”

Judy Cassab: Summer at Byron Montefiore:nHunters Hill

Judy Cassab: Summer at Byron Montefiore: Hunters Hill

Speaking more personally of his late mother, John Seed added: “One of the things i have been reflecting on today was the welcome we received when we got to this country in 1951 as displaced persons, as refugees from persecution. Judy always felt how sad it was that people in recent times fleeing similar kinds of persecution are not necessarily received in the same way. So she would donate her work to refugee support organisations  for them to raise money through auctions.  Judy Cassab felt we should treat refugees with compassion. What a loss it would have been to Australia had she been refused entry.”

Judy Cassab spent her final years in Sydney’s Montefiore Home…during which she continued to paint. She donated many of these works to the Home whose walls they now grace.

Social worker at the Monte Agnes Benstock added: “Judith Cassab by all accounts was an extraordinary woman. Her life was coloured by incredible events…sad and happy… by culture, by art and by warm

Judy Cassab: The Wave Montefiore Hunters Hill

Judy Cassab: The Wave Montefiore Hunters Hill


Judith spent her last year at Randwick Montefiore where you would often see her at various activities always with a ready smile and a kind word for everyone.

A young Judy Cassab with sone John Seef and Peter Kampfner

A young Judy Cassab with sone John Seef and Peter Kampfner

Judith’s two sons were regular faces in the dining room as they sat with their mum entertaining her with the latest family stories.

Many Monte residents have a ‘Cassab’ gracing their wall…priceless treasures  painted by a woman of worth.”

Judy took up residence in the Monte in June 2014. She occasionally attended an art talk and was delighted to sit in when Randwick Montefiore art teacher Ruth Katz gave the residents a talk about Judy’s art.

This years 2015 Archibald portrait was done in her room by Filippa Buttitta – Filipa said it was an honour to spend the time with Judy and it gave Judy the connection with art again and Judy managed a few pieces while Filippa was doing the portrait.

Nicolette Eisdel also painted a series of Judy in her home and this was displayed at the 2015 salon des Refuses.

Judy Cassab’s connection with the Montefiore preceded her admission as a resident.

Joanna Capon purchased an oil “Untitled (Pensive Girl with Flower Vase) and a number of etchings (4) through the Eva Breuer gallery. Judy also generously donated an acrylic piece to Montefiore home. These pieces were proudly hung in our Randwick campus.

Judy Cassab: Mother and Child Montefiore: Hunters Hill

Judy Cassab: Mother and Child Montefiore: Hunters Hill

In 2010 Judy visited Randwick with Marina Finlay to view her art.

Judy’s excitement was tangible when she saw the piece Untitled (Pensive Girl with Flower Vase)” and realised that her model was Marina.

Judy then joined our residents for a talk by Maria Finlay. The residents were delighted to see her and she was so pleased to meet many of her acquaintances, and friends from the art world at the home.

The  family has donated six paintings and two lithographs by JUDY CASSAB: which are hanging at Hunters Hill.


71 Edge of the Lost City – Glen Helen (1993), oil on paper, 30×46 cm
87 Desert Waves (1988), charcoal and watercolour on paper, 55×75 cm
110 Summer, Byron Bay (2001), oil on canvas on board, 77×102 cm
115 The Wave, North Coast Beach (1980), oil on canvas on board, 80.5×106 cm
212 Mother and Child (1978-1999), oil on canvas on board, 122×97 cm
215 Flute (1985), Ink and pencil on paper, 76 x 57cm

And Lithographs


Judy Cassab: Artist and Model

Judy Cassab: Artist and Model    Montefiore Woollahra and Hunters Hill

In 2014 Judy’s family donated 32 lithographs which were hung at Hunters Hill and Randwick.

Montefiore Exhibition of Judy Cassab

In November 2013 Montefiore Home Randwick held a Judy Cassab exhibition part of a series of Exhibitions around the country – A Celebration of Judy Cassab’s Life

A number of institutions which participated in the celebration by exhibiting  Cassab works from their collection. These included: The  National Portrait Gallery, The Art Gallery of NSW, The Jewish Museum, The National Library,  The Sydney Opera House, Monefiore Homes Randwick, Macquarie University  , the University of Sydney , The Sydney Town Hall, Woollahra Council. In addition the Cassab collection from The  Emanuel Synagogue’s collection will be displayed in the foyer of Montefiore.

Gisella Sheinberg who had been responsible for promoting the careers of many of our iconic Australian artists such as Judy Cassab, Donald Friend, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Tim Storrier, Ken Done ,and many more artist  spoke emotionally about her relationship with Judy as a friend, artist and promoter. She was well-known for her portraits being able to capture the essence of the person and many of our residents proudly hang their Cassac portraits in their rooms.

The name Judy Cassab is synonymous with Australian landscape painting and portraiture.

Judy Cassab: Trance

Judy Cassab: Trance

Born Judit Kaszab in 1920 in Vienna to Hungarian parents, she was raised by her mother and grandmother in Beregszász, Hungary. She painted her first portrait at age 12.

Between 1939 and 1949 Cassab studied art in Prague and at the Budapest Academy, but in 1944 her studies were interrupted by the Nazi occupation. She survived the war by assuming her maid’s identity.

Cassab immigrated to Australia in 1951 with her husband, Jansci Kampfner, and two young sons. Here, she gained recognition for her strong expressionistic interpretation of the Australian landscape and her ability to uniquely capture the character of her portrait sitters. These include Princess Alexandra, Lady Astor, Joan Sutherland, the Duke of Kent, and celebrated painters such as John Coburn, Nora Heysen and Brett Whiteley.

She won the Archibald Prize twice – in 1961 (the first woman to have won in 20 years) with the portrait of Stanislaus Rapotec and in 1968 with the portrait of Margo Lewers. These wins solidified her place as one of Australia’s most sought after portrait painters.

In 1969 she received the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of service to the visual arts. In 1988 she received the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), again in recognition for service to the visual arts. In 1995 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Sydney University. In 2011, the Hungarian government presented her with the Gold Cross of Merit.

She has had over 70 solo shows since her first exhibition at Macquarie Galleries in 1953.

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