Edmund Capon AM OBE, the former director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, has died in London at the age of 78 from cancer. A revered figure in the art world, Capon’s 33-year tenure at the helm of the Gallery from 1978 to 2011 is regarded as foundational to its significance in the Australian cultural landscape.

Edmund Capon

Born in England in 1940, Capon received a Master of Philosophy degree in Chinese art and archaeology (including language) from London University’s Department of Oriental and African Studies. His long and distinguished career in the arts began when he joined the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1966. Capon was appointed assistant keeper of its Far Eastern department in 1978 but left the position and country the following year with his wife Joanna to take up the role of director of the AGNSW.

During his time as director, Capon oversaw many significant changes at the Gallery, including the abolishment of admission charges. The gallery’s collection grew (from 10,500 artworks in 1978 to more than 29,000 by 2011) and so did its staff – he appointed curators of photography and Asian art, as well as...