• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: IMP0077

Cassab, Judy

(1920 – 2015)
  • Born 15 August, 1920, Vienna Austria
  • Died 3 November, 2015
  • Occupation Artist


Judy Cassab is one of Australia’s best known portrait painters and the winner of many prestigious art awards including the coveted Archibald Prize. Austrian-born and of Hungarian parents, Judy Cassab emigrated to Australia in 1951 with her husband and two children. In Australia, she quickly gained a reputation for her distinctive expressionist technique and portrait abilities. In 1969 Judy was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her service to the visual arts. In 1988 she was also appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). Following the publication of her diaries in 1995, Sydney University conferred upon her the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (Hon. PhD). In 1996 she also won the Nita B. Kibble Award for women writers.


When she was 12, Judy Cassab began two practices that would become lifelong rituals; she started painting and began to keep a diary. Later in life, in a retrospective moment, the internationally renowned portrait painter and published diarist explained how painting and writing came to feature so prominently in her life:

‘I had always thought that I expressed my thoughts with a brush. I never knew that I could write. Writing, I thought, is just a habit like washing my teeth; I could not go to bed without doing it. I do not feel anxious about my paintings. I can always paint others. It is different with the diaries. I lost the first 11 years of my diaries when they were left in my childhood home in Beregszász and perished during the war. I lost everything else I had there. But objects, even beautiful objects are replaceable. One can never recapture a 12-year-old self.’

Judy Cassab was born Judy Kaszab in Vienna, Austria, in 1920, to Hungarian parents. In 1929 the Kaszab family returned to Hungary where her parents separated and Judy spent the rest of her childhood years living in her grandmother’s house.

In 1939, only after making him promise that their marriage would not stand in the way of her being a painter, Judy married Jancsi Kampfner. Jancsi not only kept the promise throughout their long marriage but was sometimes the one who had to creatively enforce it when Judy herself was willing to put her travelling aspirations aside if it meant being able to stay with her husband and young children. Judy recalls that during one of her crying fits about a proposed overseas trip, Jancsi who was staying behind with the children, finally exclaimed ‘we are only half of your life. Stop being such a coward.’

The first years of their marriage were plagued with the horrors of World War II. Jancsi was sent to a forced slave labour camp and was one of the few to survive. It was Jancsi who, nonetheless, encouraged Judy, if the opportunity were to arise, to flee to Budapest to study painting. She did. Between 1939 and 1949 she studied art in Prague and the Budapest Academy and although her studies were interrupted by Nazi occupation, she managed to survive by going underground and hiding her Jewish identity. It was the first time in my life,’ she says, ‘that I was not a girl, not a woman, not a human being, but a Jew’. After many years of hardship and loss, in 1951, already an accomplished painter, Judy, Jancsi and their two Budapest-born sons, were able to emigrate to Australia.

Since her first solo exhibition at the Macquarie Galleries in Sydney in 1953, Judy Cassab has held well over fifty solo exhibitions throughout Australia as well as in Paris and London. In 1969, as the only woman to have won the Archibald Prize twice and having collected another 10 major art prizes, Judy Cassab was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her service to the visual arts. In 1988 she also appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).


Published resources

Archival resources

  • Australian Dictionary of Biography
    • Judy Cassab
  • National Library of Australia, Oral History and Folklore Collection
    • Judy Cassab interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection [sound recording]
    • Judy Cassab interviewed by Barbara Blackman [sound recording]
  • National Library of Australia, Manuscript Collection
    • Papers of Judy Cassab, 1944-2006 [manuscript]
    • Records of the Rudy Komon Art Gallery, 1959-1984 [manuscript]
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society Archives
    • Cassab, Judy, artist
  • State Library of New South Wales
    • Cutler family - papers, 1909-1995

Related entries

  • Related Women
    • Jenner, Dorothy Gordon (Andrea) (1891 - 1985)
  • Related Awards
    • Nita B Kibble Literary Awards for Women Writers