Bush Fire 1979


Tableland 1960


Transfiguration 1970


Field 1988


Tribe 1981


Tree of Life 1


Perfumed Garden 1976

John Coburn (1925 - 2006)


Welcome to the website of John Coburn

Here we hope to inspire you to know more about this great Australian artist and give you an insight into his life and career.

Coburn is a significant figure in Australian art, he was active from 1959 to 2003.

Coburn is widely acknowledged for his paintings and prints, however he is also regarded as an important tapestry designer. His major works include the Curtain of the Sun and Curtain of the Moon, designed for the Sydney Opera House.

Coburn’s work has been widely exhibited internationally and hangs in the Vatican Museum Rome and in all the state and national galleries in Australia.

Coburn was a committed educator and activist and progressed from teacher to Head of School at the National Art School Darlinghurst, Sydney in 1972, then called East Sydney Tech.

It was there he first studied art after coming home from the war, enrolling as an ex-servicemen and where he met his future wife Barbara Woodward. They graduated together in 1952.

In 1980 he was awarded the Order of Australia for his contributions to Australian Art. His resonant practice sings with rich colour, where he uses flat-patterned shapes to evoke spirituality and emotion.

His bio-morphic and iconic shapes draw on cultural influences and the Australian Landscape. He is especially inspired by his childhood home in tropical North Queensland.


Learn more

The Curtain of the Sun and Curtain of the Moon tapestries were both commissioned for the Sydney Opera House in 1968. They hung in the Joan Sutherland and Drama theaters at the opening of the Opera House in 1973 and then for ten years after, until they were eventually decommissioned for repairs. They have been in storage for nearly thirty years.

What's Next?

For the first time in more than a decade, the Sydney Opera House has publicly displayed John Coburn’s magnificent Curtain of the Sun and Curtain of the Moon tapestries in their original Joan Sutherland Theatre and Drama Theatre settings.

Throughout the 22 May 2019, members of the public were able to take part in free 35-minute guided viewings of these original house curtains. During the month of May, there was also a special exhibition on the history of the tapestries.

Whilst the opportunity to see the curtains in their original settings has passed for this year, this event will reoccur next May 2020 and will again be repeated in 2021. The curtains present real issues in their permanent display due to their size and fragility and more permanent solutions are being sought. In the meantime these yearly displays at the Opera House are at the courtesy of the of the Sydney Opera House and an Australian Government public grant for their display.

Read more